Chicago History Museum Staff
At First Glance
What is the first thing you notice in this painting? What colors stand out? What details do you see on or around the buildings? Why do you think there are so many flags? What kind of place do you think this is? How might you feel if you were standing in this place?
Read to Build Knowledge
Pretend that you are one of the people in this painting. Today is a special day. You finally get to explore the Transportation Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!
You walk toward a large red building in the background. The building has many arched windows both high and low, and a large golden arch over the entrance. This arch has many smaller arches inside.
Multi-colored flags from countries around the world wave against a bright blue sky. There are two statues of giant elk and some trees on your right. You walk alongside other visitors in fancy clothing. Men are dressed in dark suits and some even have top hats and canes. Women are wearing long dresses and hats.
What kinds of things might we see in the Transportation Building? Maybe we will see all the newest innovations to help people travel across the country and around the world faster!
Frank Russell Green, the artist who made this painting, was well known around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair for painting landscapes and farm scenes. In fact, one of his paintings was displayed at the Fair, in the Art Galleries building.
The 1893 World’s Fair brought together huge numbers of people and inventions from around the world. The fair was also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition because it was held in honor of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. It took place in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. Only one building from the Fair is still standing today, but there are many things left from the Fair, like photographs, paintings, and books.
Over 200 buildings were built for the 1893 World’s Fair. The main buildings were each focused on one topic, like farming, electricity, mining, fishing, art, or transportation. Different American states, including Illinois, and countries from around the world even built their own buildings to show people more about what they make or grow there.
The Transportation Building was designed and built by two famous Chicago architects named Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. They wanted to make this building different from other buildings at the Fair. The Transportation Building had red walls, arched windows, and a large arched doorway made with real gold. It stood out because the other buildings at the Fair were painted white with columns and domes, which made them look like banks or museums.
Exhibits inside the Transportation Building showed the many ways of getting from one place to another. Visitors could see railroad cars, carriages, bicycles, boats, and even displays on public transportation in major cities. Countries like England, France, and Mexico created displays to show the transportation they used in their countries.
In the American display, visitors could see the new Chicago “L” trains, photographs of railroads, and trains like the “Pioneer” locomotive and Pullman Palace Cars. There was even a four-story display showing the inside of a modern steamship!
Analyze and Interpret
- Why do you think the artist painted this scene?
- What do you think he wanted people who saw the painting to think about the fair? What was he trying to tell viewers about the fair?
- Why do you think he chose to title the painting as he did? Is the title important?
- How was the Transportation Building different from other buildings at the 1893 World’s Fair? Which things that made it special can you see in this painting?
- What would interest you the most about visiting the fair? Why do you think so many people from around the world traveled to Chicago to see the fair?
For further reading (students)
Peck, Richard. Fair Weather. New York: Dial Books, 2001.
Chicago History Museum. “Great Chicago Stories, The Best of the Fair,” http://www.greatchicagostories.org/worldsfair/index.php
For further reading (teachers)
Chicago History Museum. “History Files: The World’s Columbian Exposition,” http://www.chicagohistory.org/history/expo.html