40 years earlier, the city of Chicago organised the Expo of 1893 in honour of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.
In the 1920s, Chicago was plagued by the mafia and suffered from a bad reputation. In 1929, rolling on the extravaganza of the times, Chicago decided to organise its second World Expo to try to improve its local and international image. To meet this ambition, the organisers chose an impressive site of over 170 ha in Burnham Park along the Lake Michigan and selected a theme that would enable them to show off their prestige and power: "A Century of Progress".
An Expo caught in the midst of the Great Depression
Even though the Expo of 1933 was a success, it started on a dramatic note. As usual in the USA for big events of the sort, it was decided that the Expo would be financed exclusively by private funds and even though the stock market was beginning to show signs of danger, 10 million dollars were printed in bonds on the 28th of October 1929. The following day, the US stock market crashed: it was the infamous "Black Tuesday".
An amazing success that led organisers to reopen the Expo in 1934
One can imagine the severe consequences of such a crisis on the organisation of the event. As an example: only 19 countries managed to participate. However, organisers carried on, and the Expo opened its doors on 27 May 1933 until 12 November 1933. It was such a success that it reopened June to October in 1934. The two Expos combined not only erased the organiser's financial debt but were even a source of profit. Some 22.3 million visitors came during its first run, with a further 16.6 million visiting during its second opening.
The Largest Aerospace exhibition
Among the many discoveries that were presented, the Expo offered a particularly important space to aviation and it became the largest exhibition ever organized in this field.
Great public attractions
• The Sky Ride :
The greatest attraction of the event was the Sky-ride : a 191 meter-high (628 feet) cable car system that offered visitors a panoramic view of the site. At night, a light show would illuminate the attraction and transform the cable car cabins in rockets. Despite its entertaining qualities, the building wasn't built to last and was removed after the Exhibition.
• The Belgian Village:
Belgium created for the Expo one the world's first amusement parks. It actually inspired Walt Disney to open his own in California.
Expos are an amazing opportunity to show the world a country's innovations and power. Germany saw Expo 1933 not only as a promotion tool, but as a propaganda tool : an airship bearing the Nazi Swastika was launched in the sky above the Expo, only a few months after Hitler was made Chancellor.