1. One of the principal designers and builders of the Chicago World's Fair was Daniel Burnham, who also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C. Frederick Law Olmsted was another principal designer (but he worked with the landscaping, while Mr. Burnham worked with architectural structures). Mr. Olmsted is most famous, however, for co-designing Central Park in New York City.
2. The design of the "White City", the nickname of the part of the Fair officially known as the Court of Honor because all of the buildings were white (and because of the extensive use of streetlights actually made it possible to use the area at night), was actually the inspiration for L. Frank Baum's Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. It also was the inspiration for the "alabaster cities" referenced in the poem "America the Beautiful" by Katharine Lee Bates.
3. The world's first Ferris Wheel, so called because it was designed by George Ferris, debuted at the Chicago World's Fair. It was 264 feet high and had 36 cars, each car could carry 60 people. In fact, in some parts of the world today the Ferris Wheel is actually known as The Chicago Wheel.
4. Walt Disney's father was one of the laborers who helped build and paint the buildings used for the World's Fair.
5. It was the Columbian Exposition because it was meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World.
6. When it was originally suggested to have such a celebration, it drew little interest. However, in 1889 Paris hosted a World's Fair during which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled. At that time, the Eiffel Tower was taller than any American Building, and during the fair France made sure that their exhibits seemed more elegant than those of any other nation, including America. Wounded pride is a driving force, and soon the idea of having a World's Fair, with the excuse of it being the Columbian Exposition, that would top anything France could offer seemed only right. It took a vote of Congress to decide where the Fair would be held and Chicago won over Washington, D. C., New York City, and St. Louis. Chicago lobbied for votes by saying that this was their chance to show the world they had rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871.
7. The Decorations Director for the Chicago World's Fair, Frank Millet, died in the sinking of the Titanic, while Daniel Burnham, by now his close friend, rode a sister ship, the Olympic, going the opposite direction across the Atlantic. The Olympic made an attempt to answer the distress call, but it was too late. Mr. Millet invented spray painting as a way to speed the process of painting all the building facades white for the Fair.
8. Chicago's Mayor, Carter Harrison, Sr., was assassinated two days before the Fair's Closing Ceremonies. The Ceremonies were cancelled in favor of a memorial service for the late mayor.
9. Both General Electric (backed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan) and Westinghouse (backed by George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla) made bids to provide the electricity for the event, but Westinghouse won, and the Tesla alternating current system was used, instead of General Electric's direct current proposal.
10. All of the 200 buildings that were built for the fair were intended to be temporary. Two of them, however, still stand in place today. One now houses the Museum of Science and Industry and the other is home to the Art Institute of Chicago.
11. At least three more buildings survived after the Fair, but they have been moved to other locations, such as museums or privately owned land.
12. It is a little ironic that the Fair was supposed to show how Chicago had rebuilt itself after the Great Fire of 1871, since the year after the Fair much of the fairgrounds were destroyed during a fire. This second fire occurred during the Pullman Strike.
13. One of the attractions was called the "Street in Cairo" and was designed to look like an Egyptian marketplace. It featured a belly dancer who was nicknamed "Little Egypt." She performed what was, at the time, considered a "provocative" and "suggestive" belly dance (I do not know this dance and therefore cannot comment on whether or not it is actually suggestive or provocative) that was called the (I kid you not) "hootchy-kootchy." It was performed to a tune that is now commonly associated with snake charmers.
14. The Chicago World's Fair had the first moving sidewalk that was opened to the public. It was the Great Wharf Moving Sidewalk and carried people to the nearby casino.
15. "Buffalo Bill" was denied a spot at the Fair, so he set up next to it so that attendees of the Fair would also stop by his show. He earned a great amount of money and didn't have to pay any of it to the Fair developers.
16. The Fair almost went bankrupt due to the cost of building and maintaining the exhibits (and paying the laborers). However, the Ferris Wheel saved the Fair by being an extremely popular attraction that drew many new attendees. The Chicago laborers employed by the Fair (those who survived it, anyway) were certainly glad for the work, since the Fair took place amid the Panic of 1893, a time of great economic depression.
17. It is estimated that more than 27 million people attended the Fair during the six months that it was open.
18. People who visited the Louisiana pavilion were gifted with the seedlings of Cypress trees. According to some rumors, this actually helped spread the growth of Cypress trees to areas to which it was not native and it now thrives in places such as West Virginia.
19. The Fair introduced attendees to a new breakfast food: shredded wheat. It also saw the debut of Juicy Fruit Gum.
20. Milton Hershey purchased chocolate manufacturing equipment from a European exhibitor at the Fair, so he could add chocolate products to his caramel manufacturing business.
So there you have it. The Chicago World's Fair, or The World's Columbian Exposition, gave us the current home of the Art Institute of Chicago and the The Museum of Science and Industry, it introduced shredded wheat and Juicy Fruit gum (but not together - yuck!), and is partially responsible for Hershey's chocolate. Pretty interesting stuff, really.