Short URL for this page:
During Mayor Guillotte's administration plans for a great exposition in New Orleans, which began to take form towards the close of Mayor Behan's term, realized. The exposition, which, in every respect but the financial one, was a success, had important implications for New Orleans. It advertised to the world the fact that the city was now over the troubles which for nearly a quarter of a century had given it a sinister reputation. It had, moreover, the effect of drawing the attention of the people of New Orleans to the upper portion of the city as a desirable place of residence. Immediately after the exposition a movement began to build up this vast area, with the result that New Orleans gained very largely in population and in attractiveness.
The story of the World's Exposition and Cotton Centennial dates back to the year 1880, when a letter written by Edward Atkinson, the political economist, appeared in the New York Herald, urging the celebration of the centennial of the cotton industry in the United States by an exhibition in New York City. The year 1784 saw the first appearance of cotton in international trade, when a shipment of six bags of cotton, amounting to about one bale, was made from Charleston, S. C., to a foreign port.
The project sketched by Atkinson was taken up by Georgia, and a Cotton Exhibition was held at Atlanta in 1881, followed by a larger one at Louisville, in 1883. The cotton planters of the extreme South felt, however, that New Orleans was the logical place in which to hold an exhibition intended to feature the culture and manufacture of cotton and the machinery used in its treatment. In addition, E. A. Burke, editor of the New Orleans Times-Democrat and treasurer of the State of Louisiana, strongly advocated the project, not only of holding an exhibition of cotton, but one in which the Southern States and their foreign neighbors should play the most important part, the other states of the Union and the nations of the earth in general being also invited. Burke had already devoted much labor to stimulate the industrial and commercial life of the Gulf States and to foster trade relations with the tropical regions of America, and had dispatched correspondents to Mexico and Central American republics and had fitted out an expedition which explored Southern Florida.
As a result of the agitation stirred up by Atkinson's letter of August, 1880, therefore, an Act of Congress was passed February 10, 1883, which placed the Government in the attitude of forming a partnership with the National Cotton Planters' Association to create the exposition. The World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition was thus sanctioned and encouraged by the National Government. Commissioners and alternate commissioners for the several states in the union and foreign representatives as well were to be appointed by the President. A governing body of thirteen directors was provided, six of whom were named by the President on the recommendation of the association and seven by him on that of a majority of the subscribers in the city in which it might be located. This matter of location was left to the board. p458 It was first proposed to award it to the city which should make the highest bid toward the expenses of the project; it was later decided to give it to the city which should subscribe the sum of $500,000. There was no competition for the honor. A half million dollars was a large sum in those days, and in addition, public opinion had already selected New Orleans as the most appropriate place for an exhibition of the kind. This city was not only the natural outlet for Southern trade, but it was also the national gateway for commerce some day to arise between the United States and South America. New Orleans having met the provision that the exposition city should guarantee the necessary financial support, the Exhibition Company was organized under Act of Congress.
The next step was to raise the requisite funds. F. C. Morehead, commissioner general; Maj. E. A. Burke and W. B. Schmidt, a public-spirited New Orleans merchant, were appointed a committee to solicit subscriptions. The Times-Democrat was the first to subscribe — pledging itself for $5,000. The people of New Orleans, the railroads, the banks, the Cotton Exchange and other corporations, all subscribed until the sum of $225,000 was obtained. Only one subscription came from the North, that of Potter Palmer, for the sum of $1,000. The City of New Orleans pledged itself for $100,000 to be expended in the erection of the Horticultural Hall, which was to be a permanent structure and become the property of the city after the close of the exposition.
The amount of $325,000 was all that seemed obtainable at this stage. The directors offered Burke the management, with the title of director-general, and a salary of $25,000 a year. Burke refused, feeling that the duties of his position as editor of the Times-Democrat precluded the possibility of carrying other responsibilities. The directors returned, saying that no one else in the South was competent and that they would have to go North and engage an exhibition expert if Burke did not undertake this work. He finally accepted the responsibility, but accepted a salary of only $10,000 a year, which should be invested in exhibition stock, this stock to be presented later to the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Louisiana.
Burke, once in command, proceeded to expand the idea of a merely local or even national exhibition into one which should embrace the entire world. With less than the requisite amount in sight, he began the erection of a building to cost $325,000. His plans met with much opposition; nevertheless have forged resolutely ahead. Morehead was appointed to travel and interest state governments, manufacturing firms and foreign countries. Burke went to Washington in May, 1884, and succeeded in having a bill in Congress passed loaning $1,000,000, to be paid from the receipts of the exposition, if there were any surplus over expenses. The sum of $100,000 was also granted to the exposition fund by the Louisiana Legislature, for Congress had tied up its loan by a restrictive clause making the fund available only when $500,000 had been raised from other sources. Finally by August, 1884, a total of one million and a half was in sight. Of this amount $5,000 was to be given to each state and territory to be expended under the direction of its governor by a commission nominated by him and appointed by the President of the United States. These State exhibits thus came to be the strongest feature of the entire exhibition. In this respect, the New Orleans Exposition surpassed the Philadelphia Centennial, although the latter had cost five millions. The space allotted in advance for these state exhibits was soon found p459 to be inadequate for the elaborate displays which resulted from the impetus given to this feature by the five thousand dollar appropriation, and it became necessary to erect a second building as large as the first.
The officers appointed to prepare the buildings and collect exhibits were: E. A. Burke, director-general and chief executive officer; F. C. Morehead, commissioner general; G. M. Torgerson, supervisor and architect; F. N. Ogden, chief superintendent; S. H. Gilman, consulting engineer; Parker Earle, chief of the department of horticulture; George B. Loring, chief of the department of agriculture; B. K. Bruce, chief of the department of the exhibit of the negroes in the United States; Samuel Mullen, chief of the department of installation; Charles L. Fitch, chief of the department of transportation; B. T. Walshe, chief of the department of information and accommodation; Thomas Donaldson, chief of the department of ores, minerals and woods; John Eaton, chief of the department of education; William H. H. Judson, chief of the department of printing and publishing; C. W. Dabney, Jr., chief of the department of government, and Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, chief of the department of women's work. Edmund Richardson of Mississippi, the largest cotton planter in the United States and the world (except the Khedive of Egypt), was made president. The Board of Managers aroused public interest by appointing a commission to visit the various parts of the United States and several foreign countries. Representatives from all parts of the world were sent to New Orleans as a result of this commission's work.
The Act of Congress provided that the exposition be held in 1884; consequently, although most of the exhibits were in a very incomplete state, the opening was set for December 16. On this date the streets of New Orleans were decorated gaily. A military parade preceded the start of the official party for the exposition grounds and an escort of several military companies attended this party, which included the governor of Louisiana, the mayor of New Orleans, a number of representatives from other states and countries, members of the United States Cabinet and officials of the exposition. The opening ceremonies took place in the Music Hall, in the center of the Main Building, an auditorium capable of seating 11,000 persons and affording stage accommodation for 600 musicians. The opening prayer was offered by Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage of Brooklyn, one of the most noted divines of the day; the opening address was made by Director-General Burke, who turned over the buildings to the Board of Managers; the response, by Edmund Richardson, president of the Board of Managers; a telegraphic communication to the President of the United States was read, informing him of the readiness of the exposition; the President's telegraphic reply followed, declaring the exposition formally opened, and the engines in the machinery section were then started by an electric key, touched by the President at the White House in Washington. A congratulatory address by the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana then followed; a poem by Mary Ashley Townsend, a gifted New Orleans writer, was read, followed by music by the Mexican Band and Currier's Band of Cincinnati. Dispatches of congratulation were received from various quarters. The President, though unable to be present and formally open the exposition, was nevertheless in personal communication with New Orleans by special arrangement. Electric communication was effected between the East Room of the White House and the Main Building p460 of the exposition, and, as has been said, at the appointed hour the signal was sounded there in the presence of a gathering which included a distinguished company, in addition to the President and commissioners of both houses of Congress. Each step in the proceedings at New Orleans was announced by telegraph, and the address of the president of the Board of Managers was transmitted word for word. Mr. Arthur then read his response before the company, and it was immediately transmitted to New Orleans. He next touched the electric key, as already mentioned, and thus gave the signal for starting the machinery in the Main Building.
The site chosen for the exposition was an unimproved tract of land •245 acres in extent, about four and a half miles from Canal Street, the principal shopping street of New Orleans. This tract lay along the river front and was part of a larger area occupied formerly by the United States for military purposes. It had been acquired by the city to be used as a park, but up to this time it had remained undeveloped. Magnificent avenues of live oak trees, probably a century old — relics of one or more large plantations of an earlier period — trees standing like hoary sentinels draped with gray Spanish moss — were its only adornment. There was much to be done in the way of transforming this vast, undeveloped expanse of land into grounds suitable for a world's exposition. In due time, however, grass plots were laid out, trees of a more rapid growth and shrubs were planted and tropical and semi-tropical plants were set out, while fountains, bridges and electric lights lent the aid of art to the natural beauties already described. To the south of the main building a garden of semi-tropical plants included groves of orange, banana, lemon, mesquite, maguey and the flora of Louisiana, Florida, California, Mexico and Central Mexico. In front of the Mexican Building was a separate garden of plants characteristic of Mexico, including various forms of cactus, with a fountain in the center. The water power for the exposition grounds and buildings was furnished from the river by means of two compound duplex Worthington pumps, with a capacity of •4,000,000 gallons per diem. •Five miles of pipe were laid to distribute it. •One thousand feet of pipe passed through the Main Building alone, where fifty-six fire hydrants were located. The pressure was supplied from a stand •100 feet high and 42 inches in diameter.
Above this stand pipe a huge electric light of 100,000 candlepower rose, sending its rays to a great distance. Five other tall lights, placed on towers •125 feet high and giving out 36,000 candlepower were also provided for the illumination of the grounds by night. Fifty additional Jenny arc lights were placed at various points.
The principal buildings were the Main Building, the Government Building, the Horticultural Hall and the Art Building. The Mexican Building, erected by the Mexican Government as headquarters for its detachment of cavalry and infantry, as also for members of the Mexican Band and the representatives of the Mexican Government, was also an object of interest, as well as the separate octagon building erected near the Main Building, used for the display of Mexican minerals. A number of minor structures for restaurants and public accommodation and for special private exhibitions were distributed at intervals between the larger buildings.
The Main Building was situated near the center of the enclosure, its front facing the east and its southern end towards the river. Its area, p461 •thirty-three acres, was the largest till this time ever covered by any exhibition structure. It was a wooden building •1,378 feet long and 905 feet wide, erected in a series of trussed sections divided by rows of tall pillars, covered by a continuous roof, consisting mainly of glass. The Music Hall was placed in the center, a huge space being reserved as auditorium, with seats for 11,000 persons and a stage for 600 musicians, backed by a gigantic organ specially constructed for this exposition. This Music Hall was separated from the surrounding space by rows of pillars, surmounted by open Gothic arches, thus affording an undisturbed view over the whole interior, which was surrounded by spacious galleries •23 feet high, reached by elevators and stairways.
The exterior was exceedingly simple, its long lines being broken by numberless windows and square towers surmounting the entrances at the middle and at the two ends of the main front. In the center of the east front a high bell tower rose over the main entrance, provided with a set of chimes. From the top of this tower a splendid view of the country around could be obtained. An allegorical group in bronze was placed above this entrance, representing scenes in the aboriginal and modern life of the country, while in the niches on either side were placed statues, one of Columbus, the other of Washington.
Central Building, Cotton Centennial Exposition, New Orleans, 1884
About one-third of the width of this building was occupied by machinery. At the southern end exhibitions of mills and factories and actual operation were accommodated in an extension •120 feet wide and 570 feet long. A long building, devoted to saw mills, stretched at right angles to this extension, as far as the river front.
The spaces in the Main Building, while not marked off by partitions, were broken by aisles of an aggregate length of •six miles, laid off in rectangles, with letters and numbers on pillars designating the several limits. The main front on the east side was occupied by offices connected with the management and administration of the exposition. The first longitudinal aisle separating these from the rest of the interior was •20 feet wide, and extended the entire length of the building. Here were displayed raw and manufactured products, ores, minerals and woods. A space twice as wide, inside of this exhibit, and parallel to it, was devoted to textile fabrics, clothing, etc. Another space, equally wide, was set apart for the exhibits of alimentary products, while next to this, in a space •24 feet wide, were shown educational and literary exhibits.
Across the southern end of the building, extending as far as the machinery section, displayed the general exhibits of merchandise and p462 products of industry and skill, while the same space at the northern end was filled with agricultural machinery and implements, from the elementary tools required to break the soil to the most complicated instruments used in the final preparation of its products for use.
The central area on both sides of the Music Hall was used for foreign displays contributed by the following countries: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, U. S. Colombia,º Venezuela, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, San Salvador, Jamaica, Belize, Brazil, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Siam, China, Turkey and Asia Minor. Of the foreign exhibits that sent by Mexico was the largest covering an area of •16,000 square feet. Central America made a more complete display than ever before at a world's fair, but the exhibits from the West Indies and South America, with the exception of Jamaica, Brazil and Venezuela, were not extensive.
In the galleries on the east front and across the ends of the building were shown special exhibits of manufacturers, etc.
The machinery section covered a space of •300 feet in width in the Main Building and with the extension occupied in all an area of •471,800 square feet. A broad railway separated the boiler house and the repair shop from the Main Building. Twenty batteries of boilers supplied the steam, which was transmitted through double riveted steel piping, •700 feet long and 30 feet across. Across the middle of the machinery section was situated the main engine room, •300 feet long by 50 feet wide. The aggregate power was supplied by boilers of 5,200 horsepower and by twenty-four separate engines of 4,500 horsepower. •Ten thousand feet of shafting were included in this exhibit, while forty dynamos of the Edison, Brush and the Louisiana Electric Company were displayed and operated. Practically every phase of manufacturing and mining and the application of mechanical power to the development of modern industry was shown in this exhibit.
In the Factories and Mills Extension the treatment of the main products of the South, cotton, sugar cane and rice, were shown. The process of sugar making was exhibited with remarkable fidelity and attention to detail. Forty saw mills were also operated in these Factories and Mills Extension.
To the northwest of the Main Building a space set apart for the live stock extended •2,080 feet in one direction by 780 feet in the other. Four buildings were erected to accommodate the horses and two for the cattle. Half-mile tracks and open areas were laid out for the proper display of the stock. A total of $125,000 was offered in prizes for the best display in this department.
The second building in size was the Government Building. This was designed for exhibits of the United States Government and the several states and was similar in general style and mode of construction to the Main Building, covering, however, very much less space, its dimensions being •885 feet long and 565 feet wide. It was placed to the north of the Main Building, its west side, in which was the main entrance, lying nearly in line with the eastern side of the former. Its exterior walls were •43 feet high, with square towers rising here and there, the most imposing of which surmounted the middle and ends of the sides. As in the larger building, the huge interior space was unbroken by partitions and was surrounded by a continuous gallery •40 feet wide.
p463 The Horticultural Hall was the building third in size. This was constructed of iron and glass, as it was intended as a permanent structure to remain after the close of the exposition. It was •600 feet long and in the main section 100 feet wide, but a central transept was extended to the width of •194 feet, with a glass-roofed tower •90 feet high rising at the intersection above a large fountain.
The Art Building was situated nearly in front of the Main Building, and, like it, was constructed of iron and glass, the light coming altogether from the roof. This was •250 feet long and 100 feet wide. A massive Doric portico adorned the front, while the rotunda, •50 feet across, designed for the statuary display, occupied the center of the structure, with four galleries •100 feet and 50 feet wide opening out from it.
In the Government Building a broad section across the entire width of the building was occupied by the display of the United States Government. An appropriation of $300,000 was made by Congress for this purpose. The east end of this section was occupied by the offices of the administration, and the exhibits were arranged thence across the building in this fashion: The Department of the Interior, an area of •22,670 square feet; the Smithsonian Institute, an area of •19,965 square feet; the Agricultural Department, an area of •10,780 square feet; the War Department, •7,014 square feet; the Naval Department, •6,815 square feet; the Treasury Department, •2,030 square feet; the Department of Justice, •968 square feet; the Postoffice Department, •5,876 square feet; the State Department, •3,300 square feet.
In the hothouse of the Horticultural Hall, a space •250 by 25 feet, in the southeastern corner of that building, a profusion of tropical plants were grown. Premiums amounting to $32,000 were offered for the finest displays and specimens of fruits and plants.
The agricultural exhibit was under the direction of Dr. George B. Loring, United States commissioner of agriculture, and under the immediate supervision of Hon. George Y. Johnson of Kansas. In this exhibit were included several divisions in which premiums were offered, such as fat stock, horses, mules and donkeys; dogs, poultry and pet stock; cattle; dairy products; sheep and goats; swine; farm and garden products; farm and machinery utensils; machinery for the production of agricultural products; humane inventions and buildings. The dairy exhibit occupied •60,000 square feet, of which 10,000 were refrigerated. More than 10,000 packages of butter and 5,000 of cheese were displayed in this section. This enormous refrigerating plant was one of the novel features of the exposition. Besides the dairy products already referred to, fruits, fish and flowers were preserved here and five tons of ice were manufactured daily.
Another special exhibit was that of women's work. This was under the management of Mrs. Julia Ward Howe of Boston, chief commissioner of the department. Mrs. Howe was assisted by an efficient staff of prominent women from each state. The sum of $50,000 was appropriated to this department by the exposition management. A space •710 feet long by 40 feet wide was assigned to this in the west gallery of the Government Building. In most cases, a separate section was devoted to the exhibit of each state, but in the cases of Texas and Wisconsin and a few others this exhibit was included in the general exhibit from the state on the main floor. As a matter of course, here were shown all branches of handwork and many useful inventions. Works of a high p464 degree of art and design, as well as literary merit, also figured. It was considered, on the whole, the most complete representation of the achievements of women ever exhibited.
Another special exhibit which demands mention was that of the work of the colored race. This was under the direction of the Hon. Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi, chief commissioner of this department. The sum of $50,000 was set apart for this exhibit by the management, as for the women's exhibit. It was matter of comment at the time, however, that this display did not in any sense represent the achievements of the negro race in its purity, for in practically every instance of distinguished merit the exhibitor was found to be a descendant of a superior race. Even the individual in charge of the display was an octoroon, whose blue eyes and yellow hair were misleading in the extreme as a representative of the colored race. The Government Building afforded space for this exhibit also, the north end of the gallery having been assigned for this purpose.
In the east and south galleries of the Government Building were grouped collective exhibitions of educational appliances, methods and matter, in addition to the educational features of the state exhibits.
It was a disappointment to the management that Europe sent little in the way of exhibits, other than might be found in the display of any important or extensive shop. Russia sent a few handsome furs, some expensive tables of malachite and lapis lazuli, some droskys, several specimens of sumptuous Moscow fabrics of gold, green and crimson for wall hangings and a few genre bronzes. Belgium sent examples of her entire field of manufactures — iron, cotton, woolen and glass, besides specimens of the map-making work of her Geographical Society. France sent a really notable display of her educational work, covering the whole field of education in France, from the crèche for infants to the work of the national school of decorative arts. The characteristic French love of system was conspicuous throughout the display, while marked artistic feeling and an indefinable touch of taste in the work of the pupil was everywhere apparent, evincing an instruction carried beyond mere textbook information and demonstrating a method of teaching by things rather than by rote.
Venetian glass was displayed in great quantities, and the methods of blowing glass were shown in detail. Bohemian glass was also exhibited to a considerable extent. Viennese bent-wood furniture illustrated the commercial achievements of this country. Spain sent very little by way of private enterprise and nothing at all officially.
Guatemala, Honduras and British Honduras exhibited their natural products, especially their native woods, such as hard, handsome furniture woods, before unknown to commerce, besides their well-known mahogany, rosewood and redwood. Jamaica sent sugar, rum, coffee, wood, fibers and fruits, besides a case of work from the Woman's Self-Help Society, whose president was Lady Musgrave, daughter of David Dudley Field of New York City. Brazil sent only coffee.
Japan sent an educational exhibit which illustrated strikingly the revolution in life and thought which the new western ideas had wrought in Japan. Two of the great commercial companies of Japan sent mercantile exhibits of porcelain and other wares, on the order of those on display in New York City. The tea pagoda, at which Heno tea was generously dispensed, by way of advertisement, was a social rallying place p465 for sightseers at all times of the afternoon. Siam sent a small display of cotton fabrics. China also exhibited cotton fabrics, and, in fact, cotton in every form imaginable, even to life-sized figures costumed in fabrics woven therefrom. While the display included nothing else but cotton in all its phases of development and use, it was, in its own way, the best exhibit in the entire exposition. A catalogue accompanied the exhibit in Chinese and English, the preface of which comprised a monograph on the cultivation and manufacture of cotton which was so thorough and instructive as to constitute the very last word on the subject. Indeed, the catalogue itself was so complete in every detail that it was said to "put to the blush all the catalogue-making of the self-styled advanced nations of Europe and America." The central object of the exhibit was a yellow-roofed pagoda, on one of the screens at the entrance of which was inscribed the legend: "As from far beyond the clouds in spring, the moon with liquid effulgence shines, so the lustre of a proper observance of what is right is reflected upon our country and our literature, causing both to flourish."
The arrangement of the floor plan of the buildings as planned and executed by Samuel Mullen, chief of installation, has already been commented on. All the aisles of the exhibitors' spaces were based on a unit of •four feet square, allotments being made in multiples of this space. The aisles were kept free and extended unbroken from end to end, except in the machinery spaces, where groups of engines obstructed them, and in the case of the Music Hall in the center of the Main Building, which formed a distinct architectural feature. As a result there was no strife on the part of competitors for places, and no charges of partiality could be brought against the management. A systematic scheme of display was also made possible in this way. Another of Mr. Mullen's ideas was not to place similar exhibits together, but to separate them within the space to the class, and so produce an effect of variety. Recognition of Mr. Mullen's ability and of the general satisfaction given by his work was shown in a very pretty ceremony which was celebrated on January 21, 1885, by the presentation to him of a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The New Orleans Exposition was not equal, on the whole, to the Centennial in Philadelphia, especially in regard to brilliancy of effect and variety of interest and foreign displays. The state buildings were neither so numerous, nor were there so many foreign government buildings. On the other hand, the exhibit from the National Museum and the other exhibits in the Government Building, including the departmental exhibits and the array of the products and educational features of the forty-four states and territories were exceptionally fine, while the display in the Main Building from America as a whole was really more impressive than that at the Philadelphia exhibition, although the number of exhibitors was not so great.
As far as magnitude is concerned, however, the exposition in New Orleans ranked not only with that in Philadelphia but also with that in Paris, in 1878, as shown by the following figures: Philadelphia (1876), Main Building, •20.11 acres; Paris (1878), Main Building, •54 acres; New Orleans (1885), Main Building, •31.3 acres; Philadelphia (all buildings), •71.5 acres; Paris (all buildings), •100 acres; New Orleans (all buildings), •76 acres.
p466 The remainder of the story of the exposition can be briefly told. On May 13 Burke resigned his post as director-general, pleading the demands of his business, which precluded the possibility of longer carrying the burden of the great enterprise. S. H. Buck was on May 19 chosen to succeed him. Already a project was bruited about the city to prolong the exposition into another year. A meeting was held at the St. Charles Hotel on May 29, at which a large number of exhibitors and the representatives of some twenty American cities were present. These pledged their co‑operation. Another meeting was held on May 31, under the presidency of Isidore Newman, at which plans were formally presented for the North, Central and South American Exposition, which, it was expected, would be able to acquire the equipment of the World's Exposition and carry on the enterprise successfully for an additional period of four or five months. S. B. McConnico, who was a leading spirit in the proposed enterprise, reported having secured the assurances of representatives of forty-one states and territories that they would be represented. On this basis an appeal was made to the public to contribute towards the expenses of the undertaking.
The last day of the exposition was Sunday, June 1, but in view of the sacred character of the day the closing ceremonies were deferred to Monday. They took place under the oak trees and included prayer by the Rev. A. J. Witherspoon and addresses by Col. J. B. Mead, commissioner from Vermont; Capt. H. Dudley Coleman, representing the exhibitors; Eduardo Zareta, commissioner from the Republic of Mexico; Oliver Gibbs, commissioner from Minnesota; E. M. Hudson, on behalf of the Board of Management, of which he was a member; B. D. Wood, representing the citizens of New Orleans; C. J. Barrow, commissioner from Louisiana, and Major Burke. Col. Edmund Richardson, who presided, made the closing address in his capacity as president of the company.
The work of dismantling the exposition was already under way. In the Machinery Hall, first of the buildings to be stripped, the noise of the hammers of the workmen taking down the exhibits resounded during the whole of the closing exercises.
In spite of the earnest efforts of the patriotic citizens who hoped to be able to make a success of what was popularly called the "American Exposition," the receipts from the popular subscription were unsatisfactory. The earnest work of J. C. Morris, president of one of the largest local banks, wrought wonders in building up the fund necessary to justify the enterprise. On July 13, when the plant and equipment of the late exposition were offered at public auction by N. J. Hoey, the auctioneer, the enterprise had taken such shape that the purchase of this material was justified. A. N. Cummings, representing the new company, bought it in for $175,000. Only part of this sum was paid in cash. Some weeks previously the United States had disposed of the material left over for its exhibits by auction for $1,300. This sale was effected by Ben Onorato, another well-known local auctioneer. The small sum then realized was all that the government ever recovered out of the large investment which it had made at New Orleans.
The American Exposition opened on November 10, 1885, and ran till March 31, 1886. It encountered difficulties from the start. The weather was very bad. It was clear that the opening should have been postponed till the spring, when with more favorable weather a larger p467 attendance might have been obtained. In January a mass meeting was called at the Washington Artillery Hall to raise funds and arrange transportation facilities. A debt of $250,000 had been accumulated, and there did not seem much prospect that receipts from admissions at the exposition would suffice to meet it. S. H. Buck, who had been appointed director-general, exerted himself valiantly. A ladies' committee, headed by Mrs. D. A. Given, was formed to co‑operate and is reported to have done "glorious" work. Finally an appeal was made to the city council, but the financial difficulties of the city were already serious and it was impossible for the administration to offer any relief.
There had been several changes in the administration of the exposition. In July Buck was appointed postmaster of the city, and resigned from his post as director-general to accept that appointment. He was succeeded on September 1 by J. W. Glenn, who had till then been serving as chief of installation. On November 21, however, Glenn resigned and Buck returned to the laborious and important post which he had recently vacated. He was able to announce early in the following February that the exposition was complete. The Main Building was "nearly" filled with private exhibits; the Government Building was in attractive shape, and several new departments had been installed, of which specially notable was the "Colonial Hall," filled with relics of New Orleans' splendid past, collected by the Creole ladies of the city. A few days later he suddenly resigned and B. D. Wood was chosen to take his place.
Early in the year 1886 the old Exposition Company brought suit against the American Exposition Company for unpaid balance due it, and on April 9 a decision was handed down in favor of the plaintiff. The assets of the company were sold at auction, in two installments. The second and last sale took place on May 17, which may be looked upon as the last date in the history of the enterprise. The Government Building, which was then offered, was bought in by a dealer in second-hand building material for $4,100. The Main Building brought $9,050. An article in the Picayune, which chronicled the closing scenes of the exposition, served as its epitaph of the enterprise, pointing out with melancholy eloquence that the collapse of the American signed the death warrant of any other such enterprise thereafter forever in New Orleans. Yet the exposition was a failure only in the financial sense. It worked an immense educational benefit to the South, and its value in building up New Orleans can never be estimated in mere totals of dollars and cents.1
1 New Orleans Picayune, June, 1885 – May, 1886, passim.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
J. S. Kendall's History
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 14 Dec 05