1. The fair produced a number of new products.
A number of grocery products introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair are still popular today like Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. New technology was introduced that is still being used as well such as the dishwasher and fluorescent light bulbs; although the dishwater didn’t really take off until the 40’s and 50’s.
2. The newly invented Ferris Wheel helped save the fair from financial ruin.
Despite the money raised by private investors and the U.S. government (through the sale of commemorative coins and stamps), squabbling amongst the organizers and numerous construction delays resulted in a huge budget deficit. In today’s dollars it took around $330 million to put the fair together and run it and they only ended up getting less than half of what they invested in the fair back in ticket sales so getting people to spend a lot of money at the fair was critical.
Another costly financial mistake was the refusal to allow William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and his troupe of sharpshooters, cowboys and Native American performers to appear at the fair. This made him mad so he brought his Wild West extravaganza to Chicago anyway, setting up shop right outside the fairgrounds and siphoning off visitors. By the way, the Chicago World’s Fair didn’t want Buffalo Bill to perform for political reasons as his show involved cowboys and Indians having shootouts; so political correctness was around even then.
The fair’s financial woes received a boost with the long-awaited debut of a new invention from Pittsburgh and steel magnate George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. His Ferris wheel was 264-feet tall (close to 30 stories), and was an engineering marvel. It could fit 2,160 people at a time, and cost 50 cents to ride—twice the price of a ticket to the fair itself. The cost of a ticket would be around $12.70 in today’s dollars so it was an expensive ride.
Can you imagine how brave those first riders of the Ferris Wheel were? Would you have been one of the first to go up? The ride proved so popular it was moved to Chicago’s North Side after the fair ended, where it remained in operation for 10 years before it was sold to the organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
3. Chicago was home to both a serial killer and a political assassin during the fair.
For several years before and during the Fair, Dr. Henry Howard Holmes was busily luring victims (including a number of fairgoers) to a three-story, block-long building called the “Castle,” where they were tortured, mutilated and killed. The building was custom built for him to torture the victims, murder them, and then dispose of their bodies in his own crematorium. Holmes’ heinous crimes weren’t discovered until after the fair ended and it’s believed he was responsible for dozens of deaths in Chicago. Keep in mind the police were absolutely overwhelmed with the 26 million visitors who were visiting the fair.
It was another murder major murder that stole the headlines during the fair. On October 28, just two days before the exposition was set to close, Chicago’s recently reelected and very well liked mayor, Carter Harrison Sr., was shot and killed by a disgruntled—and deranged—office seeker, Patrick Eugene Prendergast, who believed he was owed a political appointment by the mayor. With the city in shock, the fair’s organizers quickly decided to cancel the lavish closing ceremony in favor of a public memorial to the city’s popular slain leader.
One of the best books I’ve ever read is about this Chicago World’s Fair and it digs deep into the serial killing that was taking place; if you get a chance please read: Devil in a White City as it’s awesome.