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The World’s Columbian Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 is justly celebrated as a watershed in American architecture and city planning, as well as a signal event in the in the history of Chicago and its reputation. This giant world’s fair, staged on 700 acres of reclaimed swampland in Jackson Park, likewise marked a turning point in the career of Daniel Burnham. He underscored the importance of the fair by devoting to it a significant portion of the first chapter in the Plan of Chicago. As the Plan explained, “The World’s Fair of 1893 was the beginning, in our day and in this country, of the orderly arrangement of extensive public grounds and buildings” (p. 4).

Burnham played an evolving role in the fair’s development. He was first hired as a consulting architect by the exposition’s Committee on and Grounds and Buildings in 1890. Later, he and his partner John Root worked with landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his associate Henry Codman to advise the committee on the selection of the site and its transformation from swamp to fairgrounds. In 1891 he was appointed Chief of Construction, and he was given the title Director of Works in 1892. Although Burnham’s contributions to the exposition were considerable, they have been frequently exaggerated in popular histories. The buildings and grounds were his purview, but responsibility for the fair’s larger administration remained with the Director-General, George Royal Davis.



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