Great Lakes Exposition, Cleveland, 1936
|Why It's Interesting|
This is the cover of the official view book of the Great Lakes Exposition held in Cleveland in 1936 and 1937 to mark its 100th birthday. This expo was one of 3 huge fairs held in 1936 that are little known today: the others being the Texas Centennial, Dallas, and the California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego. Chicago’s Century of Progress Expo 1933-34 and the New York World’s Fair [and Golden Gate Exposition] of 1939-40 have been thoroughly studied, but little attention seem to be paid to these 3 nearly-as-impressive fairs. [My 4 postings this week will spotlight the 3 fairs]. Their coincidence in 1936 might just make that year the apex for expositions in American history. [1909 had had 2 great fairs: the Alaska-Yukon in Seattle and the Hudson-Fulton in New York].
The Great Lakes Expo covered 135 acres and was constructed in only 80 days. It drew 4 million visitors in 1936 and 3 million in ’37. The most popular features included the “Streets of the World” with its 200 cafes and bazaars [Wikipedia] from around the world; a water show starring Johnny Weissmuller [Tarzan]; and Byrd’s South Pole ship, an old 3-master.
Every bit as deco as the Century of Progress exposition, this fair, to judge by this image, adopted the bombastic formalism of Mussolini Fascist-classicist moderne. The eagles here would have looked just as natural presiding over a parade route for Il Duce.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.