A Vintage Photo Tour of Famous World's Fairs

The World's Fairs were all things—beautiful, obscene, capitalist, futuristic—and now all we have are the photographs and the memories.

In 1851, London hosted the first major world's fair. Titled The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, the fair featured industrial achievements from various nations around the world. Hosted in London's opulent custom-made Crystal Palace, it featured a glittering array of new technologies, from an early fax machine to a telescope to the world's largest diamond.

This world's fair project was, in a way, an early triumph of liberalism. Its success promised (among other things) that free trade and capitalism would not only save us—they'd launch us into a brave new future. In addition to highlighting great inventions that promised to elevate humanity to new heights, the 1851 world's fair promised that nations could cooperate on the basis of shared human ambition instead of tearing each other apart.

Around 100 world's fairs and two world wars later, we've landed in the era of neoliberalism, the Internet, and climate change (the end result of cutthroat capitalism). The world's fairs have become world expos, and their scale has been compressed alongside technology itself.

But once upon a time, the world's fairs were glorious and highly dangerous occasions. Today, they are both relics and omens that can teach us about the mistakes of the industrial revolution while also embodying the beauty of human creativity.

World's Fair Community


Encyclopedia Britannica

After the great success of London's fair, the world saw an explosion of fairs. Between 1880 and the start of World War I, over 40 fairs took place in nations around the world, including Australia, Guatemala, and Hanoi (which was located in then-Indochina, now Vietnam).

Postcard from the Hanoi Exposition Wikipedia

The United States' first world's fair was actually not a notable success. It took place in 1853, in New York City's Bryant Park. It featured its own Crystal Palace and included displays like those featured in London, as well as a new sculpture collection. Walt Whitman wrote a poem about the event, titled "Song of the Exposition":

"... a Palace,
Lofter, fairer, ampler than any yet,
Earth's modern wonder, History's Seven out stripping,
High rising tier on tier, with glass and iron facades,
Gladdening the sun and sky - enhued in the cheerfulest hues,
Bronze, lilac, robin's-egg, marine and crimson
Over whose golden roof shall flaunt, beneath thy banner, Freedom."

Still, the US's first World's Fair ended up losing money. The Crystal Palace burned in 1858, and the US wouldn't host another fair for 20 years. Today, the Palace is remembered fondly by some, though The New York Times called it a "fleeting monument to conspicuous consumption"—something that could perhaps be said of all world's fairs.

Bryant Park's Crystal PalaceWikipedia


Bryant Park's Crystal PalaceReddit


The New York Times

1855's Paris world's fair was more successful than its New York counterpart. Though it also lost money, it had such a positive influence in France that Paris would hold four subsequent world's fairs in 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900.

The 1855 event saw the unveiling of some fascinating inventions, including the Loysel percolator, which could make 2,000 cups of coffee per hour. The washing machine and the Colt six-shooter revolver both debuted. It was boom-town for product-sellers.

The 1889 fair would also see the installment of Paris's most iconic attractions—the Eiffel Tower.

The Paris World's Fair 1889Culture Trip


Views from the Eiffel Tower in 1889Atlas Obscura


The Interior of the Grand Palace in 1889Brown University Libraries

By 1900, industries across the world had exploded, and the Paris fairs were unveiling the latest money-making attraction: spectacular talking films that combined image and recorded sound to create the experience we now call "the movies."

Le Palais de l'Électricité and the Château d'Eau at the 1900 Paris World's FairBIE


The Grand Palais at the 1900 Paris World's FairBrown University Library


The Palace of Illusions at the 1900 Paris World's FairBrown University Library


Les Courses de Ballons at the 1900 Paris World's FairAtlas Obscura

By 1893, New York City was back in the World's Fair game. Known as the World's Columbian Exposition, the US's first truly great fair was a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's violent takeover of what would become America.

The Columbian Exposition occurred 28 years after the American Civil War, and as usual, the nation was trying to cover its bloodstains with crystals and lights, attempting to unify by rallying around industry. It was the Gilded Age, and extreme economic inequality allowed Chicago to drop tons of money on fairs while leaving its people on the street.

Electrical Building, 1892Pinterest


"With many Americans wondering if sectional conflict had given way to class conflict, American political and economic leaders followed the example of their peers in Europe and turned increasingly to the medium of the world's fair to provide the cultural cement for their badly fragmented societies," Robert W. Rydell writes. Underwritten by industrial titans like J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and William Waldorf Astor—who collectively gave $15 million to the fair—as well as major Chicago titans like Cyrus McCormick and Marshall Field, the fair began to come together around 1880.

At the time, women and African Americans fought mostly white male-led committees to ensure they had a place at the fair. At the time, African American artists and inventors were given a separate day to showcase their work, and women were granted a few rooms of their own, so to speak. (It's interesting how much—and how little—has changed).

The Chicago World's Fair occupies an honored position in American memory, but it was a truly gory occasion in many respects. At the end of the fair, the city's beloved mayor was killed in his home. The book Devil in the White City tells the story of America's first serial killer, who tortured and killed up to 200 unsuspecting victims in a castle-like homed before and during the fair. (Admittedly, whether Christopher Columbus and his colonial ilk could be counted among serial killers should be discussed in a different article.)

The Great Fire at the Chicago World's Fair, the destruction of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, 1894 lookandlearn.com

Another famous American exposition happened in 1915 in San Francisco. During this fair, which marked the completion of the Panama Canal, visitors were able to witness the first transcontinental phone call. The occasion also officially marked San Francisco's recovery from a devastating earthquake in 1906. The fairs could be healing forces, opportunities to channel decay into forward movement.

In 1939, New York hosted its own World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. Its theme was "The World of Tomorrow." Attractions included a brand new subway line, dozens of massive pavilions, and an Albert Einstein speech about cosmic rays. The fair was conceptualized as a way to lift the city out of the Great Depression, and it eventually collapsed due to the onset of a little conflict known as World War II.

Postcard from the 1939 New York World's FairEtsy


New York's World's Fair in 1939The Atlantic

Then in 1964, the fair returned to Flushing Meadows. In keeping with the spirit of the 1960s, the festival's slogan was "Peace Through Understanding."

neplains.com


The Atlantic

The 1964 New York fair featured some of the more futuristic architecture ever seen.

The General Motors Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's FairFlickr

For their first few centuries of existence, world's fairs were typically Western endeavors, but Japan broke this trend in 1970 when they hosted a fair in Osaka. The fair featured hovercrafts, early mobile phone prototypes, and plenty of space-race technology.

messynessychic.com


The Japan Gas Association Pavilion (which was filled with laughing gas)messynessychic.com

Osaka will actually be hosting the next World Expo in 2025, with the theme "Designing future society for our lives." According to the event description, "Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai will be a place to co-create a sustainable society that can support the aspirations of all through the sharing of new ideas from each participant." Maybe the world's fair is growing alongside the times.

The original world's fairs are never coming back, which is probably for the best. They were emblems to a capitalist dream and an ideal of endless progress, which was usually paid for by colonial efforts in the first place. But they sure look beautiful in the photos.

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5 Countries to Visit This Fall

As the weather starts to chill out, we're just getting warmed up to travel

It's not winter yet!

So that means, we're all about that fall travel. It's a beautiful time of year to be outside in many countries, soaking up the colorful landscapes and fresh air. Here are our picks for the top places to visit this fall.

1. Germany

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Burg Eltz Castle is a magical step back into the Middle Ages that's been here for more than 850 years.

2. Switzerland

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The red leaves in Bern are absolutely striking.

3. Italy

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Nothing like the sheer beauty of the formidable Italian alps.

4. Peru

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Machu Picchu beckons visitors from near and far this fall.

5. Mexico

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It's not too cold to skip the beach!

Everyone has heard of the murder-hotel where dark shadows creep at the edge of your vision, or the abandoned house where the furniture moves each time you leave the room.

But sometimes the places set up to capture the fun and fright of the Halloween season for paying customers can be far more horrifying than any ghost stories. These "fake" haunted houses will leave you genuinely haunted.



Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

So spoooky!

Thomas James Caldwell

Pennhurst Asylum was in operation from 1908-1987 in the small town of Spring City, Pennsylvania. While we don't have all the records of the residents' experiences there, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that this building was home to true horrors. In many ways, 1908 wasn't that long ago, but in terms of mental health treatment—especially in small-town Pennsylvania—it was absolutely the dark ages. This was the time of lobotomies, straight jackets, and shock therapy. Whatever the jump scares and fake blood contribute to the fear you will feel walking through Pennhurst Asylum's aging, echoing halls, they can't come close to the deep, sinking feeling caused by the deep history of torment that has left its imprint on the very fabric of the place. Four spooky skulls out of five.

💀💀💀💀/5

Haunted Trap House

Like this, but less 90s

In Centreville, Maryand, in the year 1989, a group of visionaries were struck by a bolt of inspiration. What if—instead of zombies and werewolves and demons, and all the stuff out of children's nightmares—what if they filled their haunted house with the real-world nightmares that were actually infesting their city, killing their residents, and generally afflicting every corner of the entire nation. Thus, the Haunted Crack House was born. Since renamed the Haunted Trap House, it's ostensibly an educational experience on the dangers of drug use, it features simulations of overdoses, arrests, and shootings, as well as actual former convicts who are paid to draw on their real experiences to make your visit as terrifying as possible. This kind of fetishizing of human misery to capitalize on the Halloween season is as despicable as it is spooky. Four-and-a-half skulls out of five.

💀💀💀💀/5

McKamey Manor

He technically consented to this

A $20,000 reward? A 40-page waiver? These figures have garnered a lot of attention in recent headlines. Supposedly this is the "scariest" haunted house experience in the country. Who could resist the temptation of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, combined with the chance to win a big cash prize? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Russ McKay wants. There's a reason he's put so much work into the legal side of his operation. Rather than gassing up neutered chainsaws and chasing you around in a hockey mask, McKay has opted for producing actual, real, straight-up torture. You may not find the decorations and costumes that scary, but you will absolutely fear for your life when you consent to be water-boarded with fake blood. For being operated by a man who is clearly an unhinged psychopath, McKamey Manor ties the Haunted Traphouse, with four-and-a-half spooky skulls.

💀💀💀💀.5/5

Donald Vann's House of Horrors

Donald Vann murdered eleven people. Happens to the best of us, but it does present a problem. How do you dispose of all those bodies? Donald's solution was to open a haunted house and put his victims' decaying remains on display as props. Props to him. For eight months he prepared his fetid, malodorous horrors, before debuting on October 1st. Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit his house of horrors, because he has since landed in some legal trouble—board of health, maybe?—but I'm sure for the lucky few who were able to visit during its brief tenure, and witness Vann's "psychotic smirk," I'm sure the nightmares they're left with keep on spooking.

💀💀💀💀💀/5

Every Hell House in America

realitypod

In the same vein as the Haunted Traphouse, Hell Houses are church presentations intended as educational experiences that warn kids and teens away from the path of sin. Their methods for achieving this obviously vary, but according to The Washington Post, you can generally expect the following: "A devil ushers a gay man dying of AIDS into the fiery pit. A teenager who is raped at a drug-filled rave commits suicide and also goes to hell. A young girl hemorrhaging from an abortion repents at the last minute." Awful. Truly sickening. What kind of trauma are they inflicting on these children to prop up their outdated ideologies? Six spooky skulls. Where'd that extra skull come from?? Nobody knows…

💀💀💀💀💀💀/5


Destinations

The 10 Best Ethically-Conscious Zoos Across America

From coast to coast, these zoos are doing their part to help wildlife.

With fall weather making us all eager to spend more time outdoors, it's the perfect time of year to pay a visit to the zoo.

Just about every major city has a zoo where visitors can get up close and personal with wild animals, but of course, not all zoos are created equal. Particularly if you've watched Tiger King, you probably already know that some zoos do much more harm than good.


Thankfully, there are also many zoos who are doing great work in conservation efforts and creating the best environment possible for their animals and the animal lovers who want to visit them. Below, we've rounded up just a few of the most ethical zoos in the United States.

San Diego Zoo

As one of the most popular zoos in the country, the San Diego Zoo specializes in endangered animals and focuses on saving them from extinction. They also partner with other zoos around the world to share their research in rehabilitation and conservation that would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct in the wild.

Austin Zoo

Located on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, the Austin Zoo started as a goat ranch and has gradually grown into one of the state's most animal-friendly zoos. Now boasting over 300 animals from over 100 species, the Austin Zoo operates with a mission to assist animals in need, taking in exotic animals that need to be rescued or rehomed due to a variety of reasons.

Indianapolis Zoo

With a strong commitment to conservation, the Indianapolis Zoo supports efforts around the world to save endangered animals and their land. They are home to over 1,400 animals in habitats that closely mimic those of the wild and have been adopting more eco-friendly practices in addition to their conservation efforts.

Woodland Park Zoo

Located in Seattle, Washington, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of the country's most ethical zoos. They focus on recreating their animals' natural habitats as closely as possible, and the zoo also has conservationist breeding programs on-site to help grow the populations of endangered species.

St. Louis Zoo

Not only is the St. Louis Zoo free to visit, but it's absolutely massive; here, you'll find 19,000 animals from 600 species over a sprawling 90 acres. According to their website, the zoo has "witnessed dozens of cheetah births, hatched and reared endangered Micronesian kingfishers and returned Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to ponds in their native homeland—to name only a few successes." The St. Louis Zoo also has a program called the WildCare Institute, which takes a holistic approach to healing troubled ecosystems.

Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo might not be the first attraction you think of when it comes to New York City's outer boroughs, but it offers a much-needed slice of wildlife in the concrete jungle. This zoo is home to award-winning habitats that span over 265 acres. Outside of the city, the Bronx Zoo employs thousands of conservationists who work to protect endangered exotic animals in the world's most threatened environments.

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

In addition to impressive worldwide conservation efforts, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium—located in Omaha, Nebraska—features the world's largest geodesic dome. This dome creates a realistic desert environment that acts as a home to countless animals and plants.

Columbus Zoo

Ohio's Columbus Zoo houses over 7000 animals from over 800 species. They've made great strides in breeding endangered animals, such as the three polar bear cubs who were born at the zoo in 2016. The Columbus Zoo also boasts a massive 100,000-gallon coral reef tank, and some of the country's best primate habitats.

Alaska Zoo

It should come as no surprise that the Alaska Zoo is a fantastic place to see your favorite arctic and subarctic animals. Located in the city of Anchorage, this zoo focuses on arctic creatures you won't find at your zoos in the continental United States. They especially focus on polar bear rescue.

Denver Zoo

Colorodans are known for their love of the great outdoors, and their appreciation for Mother Nature translates into the practices at the Denver Zoo. They were the first zoo in the country to go above and beyond usual conservation efforts by getting rid of traditional enclosures, creating realistic habitats for their 4,000 creatures from over 600 different species.