James A. Garfield and the Centennial Exposition of 1876, Part II

By May of 1876, Congressman Garfield appears to have become much less skeptical of the worth of the Centennial Exposition as a means of exciting the minds of visitors. On May 11, 1876, he noted in his diary that he and his wife Crete

“went again to the Expositions Grounds and spent three hours in Memorial Hall and Art Hall. We saw enough to determine us to visit the grounds again – later in the season and if possible bring the children. I have no doubt of two things; first that the Exposition will not be a financial success; second, that it will be [a] great success in the way of education and stimulous [sic] to the people who participate.”

 

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Art Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Memorial Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Mr. and Mrs. Garfield did return to the Centennial in August, and they did bring their children with them, as will be seen shortly.  Based on the diary entry for August 25, it appears that Mrs. Garfield and her children had already arrived at No. 9, Woodland Terrace, when the Congressman arrived at that address at 11:00 p.m., “glad to find all my dear ones well.” The next day, the Garfields, joined by Mr. and Mrs. Chase, who apparently were also staying at Woodland Terrace, made their first visit as a family to the Centennial. What they saw there must have fascinated and delighted them, for they visited the grounds together every day for nearly a week.

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Exterior view of the Main Exhibition Building, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view of the Main Exhibition Building, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Exhibitions of everything from to machines, to art, to plants and livestock were presented in five primary buildings: the Main Exhibition Building, the Art Hall, Machinery Hall, Horticultural Hall, and Agricultural Hall. The Art Hall featured a 150-foot dome, containing “a colossal figure of Columbia.” There were numerous other buildings besides, including restaurants, a Dairy, and exhibit buildings for individual American states, and foreign nations.  The scale of these buildings was impressive, as the images included in this article show.

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Cotton display in Agricultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view, Agricultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

 

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Exterior view of Agricultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Exterior view, Horticultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view, Horticultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Fountain seen outside Horticultural Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior of Canada Display.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Exterior of the Kansas Building.  (Jim Davis collection.)

The Main Exhibition Building covered twenty-one acres, and like London’s Crystal Palace, was vast and made of glass. It had a central nave that was nearly 1700 feet long.

In Machinery Hall were to be found many new labor-saving devices, alternative fuels, and other technological innovations. Within the great hall was one of the greatest attractions of exhibition, the Great Corliss Engine. It weighed 700 tons and could do the work of 2500 horses. It was so large and heavy that sixty-five railroad cars were required to transport it.

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Exterior view of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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“The Great Corliss Engine,” which supplied power to many of the buildings at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

A number of restaurants were constructed to satisfy a variety of tastes. There were establishments catering to the American southern cuisine, German specialties, and French cookery. The Turkish Coffee House satisfied many.

James Garfield mentioned the Vienna Bakery and Coffee House in his diary. Twice, on August 29 and 31, the family lunched at the Dairy. It was located in one of the most picturesque spots on the grounds, according to Frank Leslie. The main building was about 360 feet long, built of rough-hewn logs, and decorated with grapevine branches. Many people were impressed with the richness and purity of the cream and milk served in it, and also the high quality of its butter, though Garfield says nothing on this score in his diary.

On August 26, Garfield, accompanied by his wife, his daughter Mollie, Mary McGrath, one of the servants, and “the three boys,” visited the Women’s Pavilion.  (Presumably the “three boys,” in this case were Irvin, Abram, and Edward – the presence of “the baby” being noted earlier in Garfield’s entries. Edward, the last of the Garfield children, called “Neddie” did not survive the year.) Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, and the Government Building were seen and seen again by James Garfield, his wife Lucretia, and their children while they were at the Centennial.

What might the Garfield’s seen in the Women’s Pavilion? According to Frank Leslie they saw objects made by women from all over the earth, including needlework, paintings, furniture, painted china, fish-scale jewelry and labor-saving devices.

 

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Exterior of the Women’s Pavilion, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Inside the Women’s Pavilion, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

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Interior view of the Women’s Pavilion, 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Mrs. Garfield spent at least some time at the “Japanese Department,” in the Main Building, on August 30. Her visit there leads to some unanswerable questions. First, did Congressman Garfield continue to think that the “international aspect” of the Centennial was a mistake?  Second, given that the Garfield home in Mentor, Ohio has more than a few objects of Japanese style, was Mrs. Garfield’s interest in Japanese design inspired by her visit to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, and did she decide to reflect that interest in the Mentor farmhouse purchased later that year?

There are five objects in the Garfield home today that do have a connection with the 1876 Centennial. They are the “Barge of Venus” in the dining room, and the four bentwood chairs, two of which are located in the parlor, and two in the reception hall.

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These two bentwood chairs are seen in the Reception Hall of the Garfield home at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo.)

The Barge of Venus now sits on the Garfield dining room table in the home at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo)

The Barge of Venus now sits on the Garfield dining room table in the home at James A. Garfield NHS. (NPS photo)

One of the attractions that Congressman Garfield did not mention seeing was the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although the Statue was intended to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the United States, it was not yet complete. Only the arm bearing the torch of liberty could be seen at the Centennial Exposition.

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The arm of the Statue of Liberty as seen at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Among the inventions and new products that were seen at the Centennial were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Hire’s Root Beer, and the typewriter. Over ten million people came to the Centennial, or roughly twenty percent of the population of the United States at the time, so it wasn’t the flop that Garfield thought it might be. In fact, the Centennial was profitable, and proceeds from it were used to construct the second of the Smithsonian museums, the Arts and Industries Building.

Perhaps there is a bit of irony in the fact that the first public event in the new Smithsonian museum building was the Inaugural Ball of President Garfield, held there on March 4, 1881.

 

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The Arts and Industries Building at the Smithsonian, site of President James A. Garfield’s March 4, 1881 inaugural ball.  (Wikipedia.)

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Arts and Industries Building of the Smithsonian Institution.  (Wikipedia.)

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“Statue of America” inside the Arts and Industries Building, representing “the skill, genius, progress, and civilization of the 19th century.”  (Smithsonian Archives.)

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Ballroom inside the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building decorated for the Garfield inaugural ball.  Note the JAG and CAA cyphers on either side of the arch.  (Smithsonian Archives.)

In the latter part of 1881, the contents of sixty train cars filled with donations from the Centennial were displayed in the Arts and Industries Building – exhibits on geology, metallurgy, zoology, medicine, anthropology, art, history, and technological innovations in printing, ceramics, transportation, fisheries, agriculture, and textiles.

But in 1876, having “visited many places of interest” at the Centennial, it was time for James Garfield to return to Ohio on August 31st. He “bade goodbye to the dear ones, and took the train for N.Y. [alone]…”

It would seem that despite his earlier misgivings, Congressman Garfield, accompanied by his cherished family, did indeed enjoy the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It was interesting and educational. It promoted the success of the American democratic experiment, and the resulting prosperity of the people of the United States. It had attracted millions and was profitable. It made him proud of his country.

(Special thank to Mr. Jim Davis of Dallas, Texas for use of of stereopticon images in this article!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

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James A. Garfield and the Centennial Exposition of 1876, Part I

Several months back, while searching the internet for information on stereopticons, I stumbled on a collection of images from the 1876 Centennial Exposition, contributed online by Mr. Jim Davis, of Texas.  The images are a joy to see, and several are included in this article, together with drawings published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition. Having Mr. Davis’s images at hand, locating a facsimile copy of the Leslie book, and knowing that James Garfield visited the Centennial with his family and some friends, it struck me that a blog article was in the making.

Cover of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876.

Cover of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876.  (Wikipedia)

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition called the Philadelphia event the “most stupendous and successful competitive exposition that the world ever saw.” Not that the American Centennial was anything new. Other Expositions grabbed the attentions and the imaginations of people all over the globe, including those held at Paris, Dublin, and Vienna. 

The Crystal Palace, centerpiece of the Crystal Palace Exposition in London.  (

The Crystal Palace, centerpiece of the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. (Wikipedia)

The Paris Exposition of 1867. (

The Paris Exposition of 1867. (Wikipedia)

The mania for these exhibitions, also known as expositions, or “expos,” began in 1851, with the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, labored to make the Crystal Palace Exposition reflect “the advancement of industry,” and an event that would highlight “the interests of the laboring people,” while also demonstrating the material affluence and social well-being of English society. Other expositions held in Paris in 1867, in Vienna in 1873, and in several states of the United States were all similarly forward-looking affairs.

In the same way, the American Centennial project was meant to showcase material progress in the United States, but perhaps as important was its original purpose to help heal a society recently torn apart by civil war. Through the celebration of one hundred years of nationhood, the United States would reexamine its moral, social, and political principles. 

The idea of a Centennial celebration, appealed to many people, but it was not universally embraced. James Garfield was an early skeptic. In a diary entry of December 13, 1872, he wrote,

“Congress has been drawn into this scheme unconsciously and is almost now committed to make large appropriations for that celebration. Perhaps we ought to do it, but it ought to have been done in a more open and avowed manner.”

On May 5, 1874, Garfield said that he was “some troubled about this question, but on the whole think we ought not to incur the expense [$3,000,000].” He also disliked the proposed international aspect of the Centennial, which he called “a great mistake and will result in disaster and failure.” Eliminate that feature, Garfield wrote, “make it a national celebration, [and] I shall be glad to see it go forward.”

Congressman James A. Garfield, who attended the Centennial Exposition in August 1876.  (Wikipedia)

Congressman James A. Garfield, who attended the Centennial Exposition in August 1876. (Wikipedia)

As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Garfield may have been irked by the international aspect of the centennial as an unaffordable expense. Like so many major undertakings by government in more recent history, the Centennial also became for a time the hostage of partisan and sectional political matters, as is seen in James Garfield’s diary.

On January 10, 1876, he noted that a bill was pending before Congress to grant a general amnesty to former Confederates, allowing them to hold public office. This was controversial. For the first time since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, “rebel” leaders could occupy seats in the House and Senate.

Pennsylvania Congressman William D. Kelley made a speech that offered a quid pro quo – passage of the amnesty in exchange for an appropriation for the Centennial. Garfield thought that such a deal “greatly decreased” the chances for an appropriation for the Centennial.  An attack by a southern Congressman on the Centennial, “on the ground of its being unconstitutional,” bothered him too.  The Centennial might not be affordable, but it was constitutional!

Despite the political maneuverings to which the Centennial was prey, it did proceed, with a mere $500,000 appropriation by Congress. (The bulk of the funding was raised by other means.)  Dozens of nations were invited to participate, and dozens did. These included England, France, Austria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, Egypt, and Australia. Hundreds of laborers worked on the construction of its buildings and grounds, and these included many Japanese, Turkish, and Russian workers.  The American Centennial was indeed an international affair.

Image of the 1876 Centennial Exposition grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Jim Davis Collection)

Image of the 1876 Centennial Exposition grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Jim Davis Collection)

Map of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  (Jim Davis Collection)

Map of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. (Jim Davis Collection)

Upon its completion, the physical plant of the Exposition covered 230 acres of ground at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was said that the “average visitor…could not help but be awed by the sheer size of everything.” President Grant opened the Centennial on May 10, 1876. Congressman Garfield was at the opening, though he missed the President’s remarks:

“At seven o’clock Crete and I drove to the City to do a little shopping, but most of the stores were closed and the processions that filled the streets made it difficult to move. The sky is overcast and some rain is falling while we are in the city. We returned at 9 o’clock and after breakfast went to the Centennial. Old Probabilities promised                                   us a fair day and it came. We sat on the stand in front of the Art Hall and witnessed the imposing ceremonies of the opening of the Exposition. … Nearly one hundred thousand people witnessed the ceremonies. But more than the sight of crowds and of titled officials, I was impressed by the grandeur of the human voice when the thousand trained singers rendered in solemn and beautiful music Whittier’s [Centennial] hymn… Crete and I went to the Art Gallery… [then] through the crowd to Machinery Hall… Just at the door we met the President with [the] Empress of Brazil on his arm, followed by the Emperor and Mrs. Grant.” 

Garfield concluded the diary entry of May 10, 1876 with a comment that reflected the growing industrial power of the United States in the 1870s: “We then spent an hour in Machinery Hall, where the United States will doubtless make relatively the best exhibition.”

Stereopticon of the exterior of Machine Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the exterior of Machine Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Machinery Hall. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of Memorial Hall with train in front of the building.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of Memorial Hall with train in front of the building. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Memorial Hall Art Gallery.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Memorial Hall Art Gallery. (Jim Davis collection.)

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Rangerl