Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Lighthouse Board at World's Fairs

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the world's premiere manufacturers came together every few years to show off their newest technology at huge international exhibitions. In 1851, one of the earliest of these, known as "The Great Exposition" was held at the Crystal Palace in London. This contemporary illustration shows the great hall at the exhibition with one of Chance Brothers Magnificent Fresnel lenses prominently displayed.

Chance Brothers Fresnel lenses
on display at the 1851 Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London

While the Lighthouse Board was specifically formed in 1852 to improve the administration and technology in US lighthouses, it took almost two decades for them to come close to catching up with the European lighthouse establishments. At the 1862 International Exhibition (again held in London) the Brits proudly showed off this electrically-illuminated Fresnel lens powered by "Holme's Magneto-Electric" lighting system.
Holme's Magneto-Electric" lighting system and Fresnel lens at the 1862 exhibition in London

With the International Exposition of 1876 being held in its own back yard in Philadelphia, The US Lighthouse Board seized on the opportunity to show the world the great strides it had taken. In addition to the impressive First Order lens prominently visible to the left, the display also featured a detailed model of the construction crib and tower of the recently completed lighthouse on Spectacle Reef in Lake Huron, which would long be heralded as one of the world's most important monolithic stone engineering achievements.

The Lighthouse Board exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia

In a little over a half century, Chicago soared from a site of a minor frontier military outpost to challenge New York's role as the country's premier city. To herald its "arrival" on the world stage, the city laid plans to host the World's Fair to end all World's Fairs on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' setting foot in the New World. The site selected for the Exhibition consisted of 600 acres of swampy land along the Lake Michigan shoreline to the south of the city, requiring a massive effort in the dumping of innumerable loads of fill dirt and the driving of untold thousands of timber pilings to create the necessary land and lagoons.

A poster advertising the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago

While the site for the Columbian Exhibition was dedicated on October 21, 1892, the fairgrounds were not actually opened to the public until May 1, 1893. The fair immediately became known as the "White City" as a result of the white classical exteriors of its many buildings. The "Manufacturers Building" was not only the largest building on the fair grounds, but at 1,687 feet by 787 feet was the largest building in the world at the time. Housing an exhibit space of 44 acres, its central hall spanned 370 feet and soared 211 feet above the ground, providing intrepid visitors this expansive view of the fair grounds and Lake Michigan from an observation platform atop the roof. the appearance of massive permanence of the fair buildings was a total deception, as although built over heavy steel skeletons, their exterior surfaces were constructed of a mixture of plaster of Paris, cement and jute known as "staff," and were only designed to last for the year of the exhibition, to be torn down soon after the fair was closed on October 9.

The view from the observation platform on the roof of the Manufacturers Building

The Government Building at the Columbian Exhibition housed displays from the various federal agencies, showing the wonderful things they were accomplishing with citizen's tax dollars. The Lighthouse Board originally planned on exhibiting in two spaces associated with this building - a 100 foot by 50 foot area within the building itself, and 150 foot square area outside the building adjacent to one of the canals. Unfortunately, finding itself short of the necessary $15,000 cost, the Board had to make do with a significantly reduced space of 50 feet by 24 feet within the building itself and 150 feet by 50 feet outside by the canal at a total projected cost of $5,686.95.

The Government Building at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exhibition 

While only being able to afford a 50 foot by 24 foot display area within the Manufacturing building at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition, the Lighthouse Board managed to shoehorn in a fairly significant number of interesting items to show how far they had advanced, as shown in the photograph below of the display. Included were lenses of the hyper radiant, First, Second, Fourth and Fifth orders along with a number lamps, models, plans and photographs.

The interior portion of the Lighthouse Board exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition

The photograph below shows a different view of the Lighthouse Board exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition. While it had now been 20 years since construction of the lighthouse on Spectacle Reef, it was still considered such an important engineering feat that the model of the crib and tower originally displayed at the 1876 World's fair in Philadelphia was dusted off and proudly redisplayed to the fair's visitors. The paintings on the rear wall featured the illustrious gentlemen who had served as Chairmen of the Board since its founding in 1852

The model of Spectacle Reef lighthouse in the Lighthouse Board exhibit at the Columbian Exhibition

The Lighthouse Board's outside display at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago consisted of a 50 foot by 100 foot area located on one of the lagoons. As can be seen in this photograph, the display was located adjacent to the Lifesaving Service exhibit, which took the form of a fully functioning lifesaving station complete with boathouse, boats and tramway. In addition to a number of different designs of buoys, the Lighthouse Board exhibit included a skeletal iron lighthouse tower erected for the duration of the fair.

The exterior portion of the Lighthouse Board exhibit at the Columbian Exhibition

The tower in the Lighthouse Board's outside display at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition dominated the area. The tower had been ordered by the Lighthouse Board to serve as a new rear structure for the Waackaack Range lights in Keansburgh, New Jersey, and its erection at Waackaack was postponed so it could be shipped directly to the Chicago Fair. Designed like a giant erector set, with each of its components identified numerically, it was a relatively simple process to erect the structure for the duration of the fair.

The lighthouse on display at the Columbian Exhibition

There has been much speculation as to what happened to the lighthouse tower exhibited by the Lighthouse Board after the 1893 Columbian Exhibition closed. However, there is plenty of primary source material which proves that it was disassembled after the show and shipped to Keansburgh, new Jersey where it was re-erected to serve as a rear tower for the Waackaack range lights, as was the Board's original intention use for the structure. This circa 1910 postcard of the Waackaack rear range tower clearly shows numerous clues which graphically speak to the heritage of the structure.

The tower from the Columbian Exhibition after its re-erection as the Waackaack Rear Range Light 

The US Lighthouse Board was not the only entity to include examples of lighthouse illumination technology at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Here we see an overall photograph of the exhibit of French lens manufacturer Barbier, which displayed its wares in the Electric Building.

The Barbier Exhibit in the Electricity Building at the Columbian Exhibition 

As one of a number of suppliers of kerosene for use in lighthouse illumination, even the Standard Oil Company featured a Fresnel lens as part of its display in the Machinery Hall at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exhibition.

 A Fresnel lens in the Standard Oil exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition

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