Devil in the White City

Topics: Gilded Age, Progressive Era, World's Columbian Exposition Pages: 5 (1851 words) Published: May 10, 2005
Write an essay discussing the historical insights presented in Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, being sure to answer the following questions: In what ways does the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 represent the contrasts and conflicts of the Gilded Age? What is the Fair's lasting imprint on American society & culture, & what new trends does it signal for the twentieth century?

Although the Chicago World's fair of 1893 only lasted 6 months, I had an enormous impact on the city of Chicago, its people, and indeed the entire country. Up until that point in its history, the US had done nothing on the scale of the world's fair, and was regarded as a country of barbarians and cowboys by much of the world, especially Old Europe. The fair was a perfect way for the US to disprove this. In building the fair, they would be placed in direct competition with France, who had built a magnificent fair only a few years before. If Chicago could at least build a fair on par with the Paris fair, it would prove to the world that the US was a cultural, military and political force to be reckoned with. Because of the fair's gigantic scale, it became a microcosm of the conflicts and the tenor of the times. In effect, the fair was the turning point between the old Victorian days and the modern era, technologically, culturally, politically, and in the hearts of the people of the US and the world.

The United States of the Gilded Age was not the superpower is it today. At best, it was considered a powerful manufacturing and industrial country, but little more. Culturally and politically, it was an upstart to the relatively old and established European powers of the day. At this point in history, much of the American West was still frontier country, relatively undeveloped. The North east, especially New York, was the only part of the US considered by the world to be somewhat civilized and cultured. Even what we think of as east today, most notably Chicago, was thought of as uncivilized. Getting the World's Fair in Chicago was their chance to prove otherwise. It was also a chance for the whole country to prove its cultural power. With the Fair's success came new respect from the world, particularly Europe. The US was no longer viewed as much as a second rate power with no culture of its own and no global influence. The fair would set the stage for the US to have the huge global influence on politics and culture that it has today.

The fair was a marvel of construction, planning and architecture for the day. Never had anything on that scale, in the time frame that was given, been attempted. In around 2 years, the builders terraformed a piece of blasted wasteland into the finished product. They built massive buildings on ground that was basically quicksand before they started. Olmstead landscaped the whole site, with construction going on, in a period of months. The construction effort suffered many setbacks and disasters, with the wind and rain destroying many buildings as they were being built. They built the fair in these trying conditions, with labor problems, it was a miracle.

The Fair, with its mix of East and West and everything in between, became a microcosm of the country that was building it. In it, you see all the conflicts that were going on in the country at the time. Probably the most obvious is the labor that built the fair. At this point in history, the working class of the country, and indeed the world, were slowly, but unstoppably moving toward unionization, fairer working conditions and change that is very much the same as the working class of today. You also saw the unchecked, without government regulated capitalism, and the very strong personalities of the men who ran the fair. In my opinion, it was the personalities of the leaders of the fair, as much as anything, that resulted in its amazing pace and scale of construction being pulled off. Burnham is a classic example of the Robber Barons of the day, with the idea of...
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