The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago is often referenced as one of the most successful Expos in history. Its theme celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Particularly for those from Chicago, including myself, it is unanimously considered that the Expo left a positive legacy in our great city.
Having recently moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeing Dubai prepare for Expo 2020, both on a professional level with my work in economic development and internationalisation, as well as on a personal level, I see some immediate similarities between Chicago’s legacy of Expo 1893 and Dubai’s upcoming Expo 2020.
Expo 1893 in Chicago, the World’s Columbian Exhibition, surpassed all previous World Expos in size and unapologetically embraced progress and the modern era. The widespread use of electricity on the site of the Expo was a symbol of the positive side of modernity.
For the organisers, this major endeavour was essential, and it led to one of the most significant corporate and technical rivalries of the time so much so that it shaped the future of electricity in the United States.
Opening a World Expo is always a special moment as it marks the starting line for an event that will go onto attract millions of visitors from across the world. In 1933, Chicago wanted something electrifying to mark the opening of its “Century of Progress” Expo, a way to signal to participants and visitors how far the city had come since its establishment 100 years earlier.
While focused on technical innovation and the achievements of science and industry, Expo organisers also wanted to pay tribute to history, and notably to Expo 1893 – the World’s Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago 40 years earlier. From these two considerations, a unique idea was born: to light up the Expo site using a beam of light that first left a star in 1893.