McCormick Display at the Columbian Exposition (1893)

Despite the World’s Columbian Exposition’s grand ambitions, high cultural pretensions, and international scope, many aspects of the event reflected the more provincial traditions of trade fairs and state agricultural fairs. The Agriculture Department, which housed the display of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, embodied the tensions between these diverging goals of the fair. Designed by the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the exterior of the Agriculture Building emulated the monuments of imperial Rome. The elegant facade screened from view the livestock and other outdoor farm displays behind it, as well as the agricultural exhibits of individual states and implement manufacturers.

Like many of the corporate exhibits, the McCormick display presented a history of the company. One side of the central partition featured an image of the rustic family farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Cyrus McCormick claimed to have invented the mechanical reaper in the early 1830s. The opposite side displayed a gleaming bird’s-eye view of the firm’s manufacturing facility in Chicago. Propped against the wall was a formal portrait of the founder, who had died in 1884. The latest models of McCormick’s agricultural machinery surrounded the partition.

 

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Harris, Neil, Wim de Wit, James Gilbert, and Robert Rydell. Grand Illusions: Chicago's World's Fair of 1893. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1993.

Johnson, Rossiter, ed. A History of the World's Columbian Exposition Held in Chicago in 1893. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1897-98.

McCormick, Cyrus. The Century of the Reaper. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931.

“McCormick Display at The Columbian Exposition.” Wisconsin Historical Society, WHi-76650