World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition - The Commercial Exhibits

19 February 1885

Today I visited the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. That’s too much of a mouthful so everyone is just calling it the World’s Cotton Centennial. World’s Fairs are another of the Victorian Age’s contributions, created so nations could show off how much more advanced and successful they were than other nations.

This fair got its name from the fact that in 1784 New Orleans exported to England its first shipment of cotton. At least that was the earliest record they could find. New Orleans is the home of the Cotton Exchange and one third of the cotton America produces is shipped from her ports, both north and overseas. I think the name is really in answer to Atlanta, Georgia’s International Cotton Exposition they held in 1881. New Orleans considers itself the real Cotton Capital and is a bit miffed that Atlanta would even dare suggest that it held that title.

The World’s Cotton Centennial is built on 249 acres just southeast of the city center. Not only is it near the railway station, it’s also next to the Mississippi River with docks. Visitors can come by horse-drawn tram, train, steamboat and even ocean-going ships. The site was once the home of the oldest plantation in the area. The construction workers spared what trees they could, and there is an ancient stand of oaks draped with Spanish moss near the river. Someday this will all become Audubon Park. Looking around at the gay surroundings, it’s hard to imagine this was once the site of so much misery as slaves toiled under the sun and the whip.

New Orleans decided to hold the fair in the cooler winter months rather than the summer as most World Fairs do. The fair opened 16 December 1884, two weeks behind schedule. I understand things are not going well financially. The fair committee has made some bad decisions, the worst being choosing state treasurer, Edward Burke as the Fair Director. Mr. Burke pocketed $1,777,000 (most of the fair’s treasury) and ran away to Brazil. I know this may not seem like a lot of money in the 27th century, but that would have made several men rich in 1884.

Despite this terrible setback, the Fair Committee did a upstanding job. The Main Building covers 33 acres (1,378 x 905 feet) and is the largest roofed structure yet. It is illuminated with 5,000 “new-fangled” light bulbs--ten times the number now in the rest of New Orleans.

The other large buildings are:
- The U.S. Building (565 x 885 feet) - devoted to U.S. and State exhibits
- Horticultural Hall (194 x 600 feet)
- The Mexican Building (190 x 300 feet)
- Art Gallery (100 x 250 feet)
- Factories and Mills Building (150 x 250 feet) - featuring the manufacturing of cotton products.

There are other smaller buildings, such as livestock stables and company pavilions.

My mission here is to record everything at the fair from as many angles as possible so the University of New Orleans can produce a virtual replica. I’m also recording the sounds around me.

Today I tackled the main building. In the center is the music hall with a stage and hundreds of seats. On either side are the foreign country exhibits. Beyond is the Machinery Hall with such wonders as refrigerators and ice making machines. There is also a hall devoted to the latest in farm implements.

I started with the commercial exhibits of hundreds of manufacturers, from Valentine Meat Juice Co. to Egyptian Chemical Co., Embalming Materials. Most of these companies are long gone, but I occasionally found one that will survive at least into the next century (some with slight changes to their names): Western Union Telegraph; Goodyear Rubber Co. (Goodyear Tires); Walter Baker & Co. Chocolate & Cocoa (Baker’s Chocolate); Morris Tobacco Works (Philip Morris); Elgin Watch Co.; Arm and Hammer Brand Soda; Heinz Bros. Pickles; Edison Light Co. (G.E.); and Deere, Mansur & Co. Farm Implements and Machinery (John Deere Tractors.)

My favorite commercial exhibit is Ho-No Tea. Their pavilion is made of bamboo with a Chinese dragon on top. The proprietor said the dragon spouts fire at night. I plan to go back and see that. Best of all is they give everyone who stops by a free cup of tea. Excellent tea it is, too.

Tomorrow I shall visit the foreign country exhibits and try to give you a brief synopsis. Can’t wait to see what Great Britain is showing off.

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