Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Fair Where Electricity was the Star Attraction

QUESTION: I love to browse the small items found in showcases at antique coops and at flea markets. Recently, I came across a matchsafe with a cigar cutter that came fro the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. I’ve never heard of this. Could you tell me more about it? Is this matchsafe something I want to hold onto?

ANSWER: You’re not alone when it comes to knowing much about this world’s fair. Unfortunately, all the hoopla about the technology exhibited at the fair was overshadowed by a traumatic incident—the assassination of President William McKinley. And while this happened towards the end of the fair at the beginning of September, it undermined the importance of this event.

For six months in the summer of 1901, all the world came to Buffalo, N.Y ,to see the wonders of the new century and to celebrate the unity of the countries of North and South America during the Pan-American Exposition. More than 8.3 million people came to the exposition. Visitors called it “Doing the Pan.” For most, it was the trip of a lifetime. For one person, President William McKinley, it was his last. While canals and gardens dazzled them, the midway seduced them. The buildings, covered in the new electrical lights, kept them in awe.
President William McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz while he was shaking hands with visitors in the Temple of Music on the fairgrounds on September 6, 1901. He died eight days later.

Every country in the Americas participated. The exposition Vacant land at the northern edge of Buffalo was transformed into a Spanish Renaissance style wonderland. Electric light bulbs outlined all of the major buildings. The 391-foot Electric Tower alone boasted 40,000 bulbs. At dusk, visitors gazed in awe at the display of electrical lighting, a novelty at that time.

The fair’s theme was to unite the Americas. Prior to the opening, the exposition’s organizers held a contest for the design of the logo. Raphael Beck, an artist from Lockport, a city on the Erie Canal northeast of Buffalo, won the $50 prize with his entry. The logo featured a map of the western hemisphere. North America was depicted by a fair-haired woman and South America depicted by a dark-haired woman. The women joined hands to form Central America.

The Pan-American Exposition produced thousands of souvenirs which collectors seek today. Many souvenir items were made picturing the buildings and other features of the fair. The Electric Tower pictured on your letter opener was the tallest structure at the fair and often appears on souvenir items.   Many of the souvenirs were pans, said Boyd. One frying pan had a button on the side. When the button is depressed, the lid opens and one sees a tiny buffalo standing in the middle of the pan.

Many of the souvenirs were made of aluminum, a new metal introduced at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. By the time of the Pan-American Exposition, aluminum had become a major industry in nearby Niagara Falls. After President McKinley's death, people bought presidential memorials made of aluminum.

Among the most popular souvenirs were postcards, of which about 500 different ones have been identified. Pan-American stationery allowed exposition visitors to send letters. The Pan-American logo, with or without a buffalo, appeared on the envelope.

Nearly every day was a special day at the Pan-American Exposition, and sponsors of various ceremonies and special days sent invitations. Many of these invitations as well as the envelopes have survived.

Post offices sold special issue stamps in denominations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10 cents. These stamps weren't to be used as postage and had to be specifically requested by customers.

And visitors could find free samples of food or beverages or free souvenirs in the Manufacturers & Liberal Arts Building, free sample soap bars in the Larkin Building, free machine-woven ribbons, bookmarks, etc. These, in addition to free brochures and advertising cards, enabled those who could afford only the costs of getting to the Exposition to carry away remembrances of their experience.

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