st. louis world's fair

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When I first saw this “postcard” I thought it was just a plain envelope. However, once I opened it up I discovered that it actually unfolded to show pictures of eight different buildings from the 1904 World’s Fair. Included is the Palace of Transportation, the U.S. Government Building, the Palace of Electricity, the Festival Hall, the Palace of Manufacturers, the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy, the Palace of Liberal Arts, and last but not least, the Machinery Building. Though it isn’t a traditional postcard, I really like how it unfolds to show many different buildings, instead of just featuring one. This is the final installment of the 1904 World’s fair mini-series, I hope you all enjoyed it.

-Emily

World’s Fair Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa

MSC0840

Happy International Hamburger Day! Hamburger started with the Tatars (or Tartars), a nomadic people who invaded central Asia and eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. The Tatars ate their shredded beef raw (hence the name "steak tartare" these days). According to one account, they tenderized their beef by putting it between the saddle and the horse as they rode. When the Tatars introduced the food to Germany, the beef was mixed with local spices and fried or broiled and became known as Hamburg steak. German emigrants to the United States brought Hamburg steak with them. It showed up on New York restaurant menus in the 1880s. Hamburgers became a sensation as sandwiches at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. https://www.instagram.com/p/BUpEPB9l81V/

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Welcome to a brand new episode of FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today we’re talking about a truly unique piece of fashion. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen a sneak peak of this a few days ago. We’re talking about spun glass dresses. That’s right, dresses literally made out of glass. Admittedly, these dresses were few and far between, and were only marketed for a short amount of time. They caused a lot of buzz at the time, though, and are just so interesting, I couldn’t resist doing a post about them!

It all started at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. World Fairs at this time were unbelievable, over the top spectacles, unlike anything we have today. While we live in an age of unlimited technology and instant gratification, it is hard to imagine the wonder these people must have felt when they saw in person things come to life that they had only heard rumor of (sort of how I imagine Harry Potter World to be! What?) At a fair featuring celebrities, the first ever Ferris Wheel, a full sized chapel constructed completely out of Tiffany glass, and where the 2.5 square kilometer grounds themselves consisted of custom-made temporary neoclassical buildings, canals, and lagoons full of life size ships, how was a struggling glass designer to compete? (Side note, if you have time to do a bit of research on this fair, I highly recommend it- it’s fascinating!)

Luckily for Edward Drummond Libbey, he was quite the innovator. Libbey started his career at the New England Glass Company, known for creating decorative blown and pressed glass objects. He worked his way up in the company, ultimately taking it over in the 1880s, creating the Libbey Glass Company. Around this time, he hired Michael Joseph Owens, an engineer and inventor who specialized in glass-making machines. As the World’s Fair approached, Libbey knew it was his opportunity to take his company to the next level, but he would have to create something spectacular to make an impact.

Together with Owens, Libbey developed a method to pull glass into the thinnest strand ever created. These pieces were the same width as a single strand of silk, causing it to be the first artificially produced glass fine enough (and therefore flexible enough) to be woven into a full sheet. To add additional flexibility, only the weft (horizontal) threads were glass fibers, while the warp (vertical) were silk. The Libbey Company worked effortlessly to weave yards upon yards of glass fabric, shaping it into an elaborate evening gown.

The dress was displayed on a mannequin, and was an instant success. It had a shine unlike any other fabric at the time. The New York Times proclaimed that the dress was the future of fashion, not only for its beauty, but for the fact that it couldn’t be damaged by liquids as other fine fabrics could be. The first person to own one of these gowns was Spanish Princess Infanta Eulalia, who was gifted the gown by Libbey during her famous visit to the Chicago Fair. Though she vowed to wear it upon her return to Spain, she was never able to. The dress was too delicate, and crumbled when moved. Libbey improved his design, and shortly after, actress Georgia Cayvan became the first woman to wear a glass dress, which she donned on stage.

The spun glass, or fiberglass dress (not to by confused with modern fiberglass, which is mainly plastic) continued to be admired and talked about through the early 20th century, but it never became the prominent fashion which the papers had predicted. In the end, it was simply too impractical. On top of being incredibly delicate, drastically limiting the wearer’s movement, the dress was extremely heavy. Eventually, the idea was abandoned, and the trend all but forgotten. Still, it remains a fascinating little piece of fashion history!

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!

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Here we have two more postcards from the World’s Fair Collection. One is of the Main Lagoon and the other is of the Liberal Arts Building. The Liberal Arts Building, also known as the Palace of Liberal Arts, housed displays categorized as Liberal Arts. Included were displays on fine photography, a coin collection from the British Mint, and different musical instruments.

-Emily

World’s Fair Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa

MSC0840

Tea!
  • Turkish traders begin to trade for tea from Mongolia in 479 CE, introducing tea to the Middle East.
  • It is widely believed that iced tea was invented in 1904 at the St. Louis World Fair by Richard Blechynden, a British tea merchant. However, at least one late 19th century cookbook includes a recipe for iced tea.
  • According to legend, tea was discovered in 2737 B.C. by Chinese Emperor Shen-Ning, when tea leaves accidentally blew into his pot of boiling water.
  • Solid blocks of tea were used as money in Siberia until the 19th century.
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For our next postcard from the World’s Fair Collection, we have a postcard featuring a picture of the Festival Hall at night. Designed by Cass Gilbert, the Festival Hall was where many of the plays and music performances took place. It had a huge auditorium and housed the largest pipe organ in the world at that time. I think it looks amazing with all the different colored lights.

-Emily

World’s Fair Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa

MSC0840

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Creation Exhibit, 1904

St. Louis World’s Fair (“Louisiana Purchase Expo”)

The St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 was the largest World Expo of its time. In the Creation Exhibit, fair-goers floated on boats past elaborate scenes from the Bible’s Genesis. Each scene showed a day of Creation, with an unseen speaker narrating the action. A separate ride, called Here-After, featured dark caverns where boaters were rocked in stormy waves before a happy ending in calm waters. After the fair, the Creation Exhibit was re-constructed at Dreamland, Coney Island, New York.

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The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair, took place in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. This is a postcard from the Fair with a bird’s eye view. I really love the detail on this postcard, especially the little people in the streets. 

-Emily

World’s Fair Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa

MSC0840