World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition - Foreign Countries Exhibits

20 February 1885

World’s Fairs were called fairs because they were modeled on the old county fairs where farmers would show off their livestock and produce, and commercial fairs where companies would display their products to potential buyers. In fact many items on display at this world’s fair have price tags on them. The exhibits of various nations are no exception.

Even so there are some countries already following the future trend of presenting their culture and accomplishments rather than treating this like a trade show. By the next century the nations will be competing to see who can build the most impressive, beautiful and technically advanced exhibits in their own separate pavilions. Even the companies will jump on this bandwagon.

For now the World’s Fairs still look like fairs. Some of the displays show the native artists or industries. More than one is nothing more than commercial displays as foreign companies take advantage of this opportunity to introduce their products to an American market.

I won’t go into too much detail about everything I saw, least I put you to sleep, so I will only tell what impressed me most about each exhibit.

Russia - There was a large collection wooden ware painted in vibrant colors by peasants. Since there’s little that can be done during the long winter months, the peasants have plenty of practice to get quite proficient.

Belgium - Beautiful handmade laces, one worth $2,000.

Italy - Lots of jewelry in glass, shell, coral, semi-precious stone, and precious metals. The cameos are especially noteworthy.

France - Lots of artistic bronzes, the most memorable being the one of Don Quixote. Turns out this one is really only paper mache.

England - Slag ware. Shows how useless slag left over from iron ore smelting can be utilized rather than thrown away. However, most of the exhibit is taken up by Felix & Wayman, one of London’s most exclusive furniture makers. They have replicas from various periods. It is a nice display, and since everything is for sale, they hoped to make a nice profit. Thought the slag ware is more important. Unfortunately recycling has not come into vogue yet..

Jamaica - Features the products of the island: cocoanuts, nutmeg, rum. Also 200 medicinal plants, including the newly discovered wonder drug: cocoa-leaves (cocaine). The exhibit shows how it can be used as a local anesthetic by being applied to the skin to make it numb. At least that is safer than ingesting it.

Siam - This entire display shows how the native women spun and wove cotton by hand. It includes the wooden implements and finished product. Of all the exhibits Siam did the best job keeping to the theme of the fair.

Germany - Sterling silver and precious stones. Yes, Germany, we know you are rich and powerful.

Republic of Honduras - Shows the plants from which chocolate, coffee and gum come from. We are so used to seeing the finished products that it’s a shock to see them in their raw state.

Japan - Bronze and hand-painted porcelain vases. Every one a work of art.

China - Large display on its own cotton industry. It has mannequins dressed in native costumes: a peasant bride, a widow dressed in white (their color of mourning), the yellow robes of a Buddhist monk, and others. Also shows the inventive ways they use bamboo.

British Honduras - Features the native mahogany and other woods. Shows products made from them from modern inlaid tables to primitive canoes.

Guatemala - Shows the native products including manatee rawhide. (How can you kill such a harmless creature with those big eyes?) They also displayed a species of bird that they call “Liberty.” They claim that it is so proud of its plumage that if it loses one feather, it will die. (Molting season must be horrific.)

Brazil - Many other countries showed off their coffee, but Brazil features nothing else. It’s major purpose is to demonstrate that most “genuine” Java and Mocha coffee is really from Brazil. It also categorizes coffee by grade and types. I am now an “expert” on coffee. Pity I can’t stand the vile concoction.

Mexico - They may well have the largest exhibit of the foreign countries. They not only highlight native arts and crafts, but have wax models showing scenes from daily life. I liked the one of the woman making tortillas.

Mexico also built a lovely octagonal building on the fairgrounds. I personally think Mexico may have gone all out to at this fair so she will never again considered a target for empire builders. Spain, America and France have all had their turn at Mexico, and she’s not going to put up with it anymore. Can’t say I blame her.

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