New York's Crystal Palace

N. Currier's lithograph of New York's Crystal Palace, erected in 1853 for the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry.

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4745 Glenway Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45238

For half a century, grand expositions and world's fairs in the United States prominently displayed agricultural machinery. This fact comes as no surprise, considering that the population was predominantly rural until about 1920. Not until the elections of 1932 were there more congressional members from cities than from farms.1 The agricultural emphasis found in American world's fair exhibits started with the first exposition in New York in 1853 and culminated in the great St. Louis Exposition of 1904. From 1853 until 1904, American world's fairs celebrated the newest farming implements, especially machines representing advancements in cultivation and in reaping and threshing grain.

In general, such expositions 'celebrated the past while introducing visions of the future. Both the past and the future were highly idealized, almost utopian.'2 London's Great Exposition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, often called the Crystal Palace Exhibition, claims the honor of launching the age of the exposition: 'It was the first major exposition to rise out of the Industrial Revolution . . . .'3 On July 14, 1853, the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry opened in New York City with the commemoration of another, larger Crystal Palace serving as the central exhibition hall. The next day, President Franklin Pierce inaugurated the event with a ceremony. Incidentally, on hand was the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. The American Crystal Palace inspired everyone who visited it, including Walt Whitman, arguably the nineteenth century's most illustrious American poet, and Mark Twain, who later wrote brilliantly about the Gilded Age.

In 1853, Horace Greeley revised and edited the 386-page duodecimo book commemorating the fair. The contents page revealed the emphasis placed on agriculture: Reaping, Mowing, and Threshing Machines; Plows; Other Agricultural Implements; Preserved Food; Products of the Soil; Saddles, Harness, and Trunks; Flax, and its Manufactures; Wool, and Woollen Manufactures; Miscellaneous Farmers' Tools; and Cotton.4 Other items in the list of contents referred essentially to manufactured products. Entitling his book Art and Industry as Represented in the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Greeley used the word 'art' to include the products of industry not exclusively fine art. To a degree, nineteenth-century Americans regarded machines as examples of artwork, and manufacturers often decorated their machines with sculptural details.

On exhibit in New York were McCormick's reaper, which cost $115 by itself or $140 if fitted for mowing. Greeley reported that 1,200 reapers were sold annually from the works in Chicago. Beside McCormick's reaper was Ketcham's mowing machine, manufactured in Buffalo. Next in line were Manny's reaper and mower, designed by J. H. Manny of Freeport, Illinois. Burrall's convertible reapers were displayed beside Hussey's mowing and reaping machine, which 'should properly have been named first, as it is the original of all the Reaping Machines in America,' according to Greeley. 'At the South, Hussey's machines are more generally approved than McCormick's, notwithstanding the latter is a Virginia invention, and took the great medal at the London World's Fair.' Hussey's machines originated in Baltimore. The Fairbanks' reaper and mower came next, and a self-raking reaper, invented by Charles Denton of Peoria, Illinois, claimed the distinction of being only the second machine of its kind ever built. Seymour & Morgan of Brock-port, New York, showed a reaper and immediately received an injunction for infringing on McCormick's patent. A model of a California reaper was displayed, as well.5

An illustration from J. S. Ingram's The Centennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated, 1876. The engine is not identified.

Palmer's threshing machine from North Carolina drew considerable attention in New York for its feeding aprons arranged on either side, thereby keeping the feeders out of harm's way. E. S. Snyder of Virginia exhibited a thresher worked by two horses and 'capable of threshing and cleaning one hundred bushels of wheat a day.' R. L. Allen showed a thresher without a separating apparatus. Hathaway's so-called combined machine put together a thresher and a separating mechanism, all in one. The New York Tribune writer doubted Hathaway's statement that his machine would thresh and clean six to eight hundred bushels of wheat per day: 'The story is too big for one who has had as much to do with threshing-machines as the writer of this article.' On a lower level of the exhibit hall stood Moffat's patent thresher, built in Piqua, Ohio. In the Canadian department was a thresher from Brantford; it was built low to the ground for the convenience of the feeder. The prices of threshing machines varied from $35 to $150. The thresher section of Greeley's book concluded, 'Although we contend that seed-wheat should be threshed by flails, we know that no farmer can be successful in growing rich by raising grain, who adheres to that antiquated fashion. Farmers should try to inform themselves . . . whether it is for their interest to continue to beat out their seed by flails, or tramp it out by horses, when they can so easily procure a machine that will do the work so much faster and cheaper.'6

Fairs in the U. S. were staged for the following reasons: (a) 'to commemorate a particular event,' (b) 'to increase economic development for the nation as a whole and ... for the region where the exposition was being held,' and (c) 'to boost trade with other nations.' Later expositions were organized 'to combat [certain Americans'] feelings of animosity towards the industrialization of the United States' which they perceived as threatening their jobs and way of life.7

In 1855, Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous ministers of nineteenth-century America and brother of Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote, 'The man who invents a steam plough that will turn twelve or fifteen acres a day, two feet deep, will be an emancipator and civilizer.. . . . Then Labour shall have leisure for culture. Thus working and studying shall go hand in hand. Then the farmer shall no longer be a drudge; and work shall not exact much and give but little. Then men will receive a collegiate education to fit them for the farm, as they now do for the pulpit and the forum; and in the intervals of labour, gratefully frequent, they may pursue their studies; especially will books be no longer the product of cities, but come fresh and glowing from nature, from unlooped men, whose side branches having had room to grow, give the full and noble proportions of manhood from top to bottom. God speed the plough.'8 Great anticipation heralded the agricultural and industrial exhibits of the latter part of the nineteenth century, for those expositions put on display the steam engines which Beecher thought would revolutionize the world.

From 1870 through 1888 (with the one exception of 1876), Cincinnati, Ohio, hosted annual expositions. Shrewd businessmen perceived these fairs as a means of financial recovery: 'A grave economic crisis haunted the city after the Civil War.'9At the 1877 fair, the Cincinnati firm of Lane & Bodley Company earned gold premiums for stationary and portable engines. Lane & Bodley's 10-horsepower farm engine won top honors in a field of six competitors. In 1881, Henry Marcus Lane, son of Lane & Bodley's co-founder Philander P. Lane, superintended the machinery department at the annual exposition.10 In that year, a Peerless traction engine and a Geiser separator were driven from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, to Cincinnati, where the Peerless took 'first honors in economy and field tests, winning the much coveted prize of $500 in gold.'11 For the Peerless to win in Cincinnati was unusual, since companies local to the region sponsoring a fair typically won the prizes. Questions often arise as to the extent of world's fair competitions, the selection of judges, and the fairness of evaluations. Furthermore, at some expositions, nearly every entry medaled. Whether or not contests were legitimate, the firms which won awards capitalized on that news in their advertising, particularly in the nineteenth century and the earliest years of the twentieth.

The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the republic. It 'was the first major world's fair held in the United States.'12 President Ulysses S. Grant opened the fair on May 10. An orchestra played Richard Wagner's 'Centennial Grand March' and a chorus sang the 'Centennial Hymn,' written by John Green leaf Whittier and set to music by John K. Paine, and the 'Centennial Cantata,' with words by Sidney Lanier and music by a Mr. Buck. Its vast machinery hall held thirteen acres of displays.13 One fascinating exhibit included a section of cable which the Roeblings would use in building the Brooklyn Bridge.14 Also on display were the first typewriter and a telephone: 'The Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil put Bell's strange device to his ear, then quickly dropped it, exclaiming, 'My God, it talks!''15

Much has been written about the mammoth 1400-horsepower, 7,000-ton, double Corliss stationary engine, which towered above the hall. J. S. Ingram's 770-page octavo book of the fair, The Centennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated, presented a detailed account of the starting of the engine: 'The President [Grant] having taken hold of the valve-lever of one engine and the Emperor [Dom Pedro] of that of the other, both gave the turn simultaneously; steam was on; the great walking-beams began to ascend and descend; the engine was in motion; eight miles of shafting and hundreds of machines of all descriptions were in operation, and the International Exhibition of 1876 was at that instant thrown open to the world.'16 George H. Corliss paid $200,000 out of his own pocket to build and install the engine. A certain Monsieur Bartholdi reported to the French government, 'It belonged to the category of works of art by the general beauty of its effect and its perfect balance to the eye.' 17 The two working beams rose and fell at a height forty feet above the platform. The flywheel boasted a face two feet wide; its diameter topped out at thirty feet. After the exhibition, the Pullman Car Company, makers of fancy railway cars, purchased the engine for the Pullman factory.

Abram Gaar, steam engine and farm implement manufacturer from Richmond, Indiana, bought an elegant table to furnish his new mansion under construction northeast of Richmond. 18Meanwhile, Gaar's thresher won a first-place medal at the Centennial Exposition.19

Ingram commented on the farm implement display: 'Most prominent amid all this array of practical beauty were the reapers and mowers, which, more than anything else perhaps, signalize agricultural progress. It is only a few years since the sickle was seen in every grain field, and with its slow and toilsome results each farmer had to be content. When the cradle came it seemed as if the climax had been attained, and the man who could cut three or four acres of wheat in a day, laying it in fair shape for the binder who followed, was doing good work. But the cradle and handrake gave way to the reaper and self-raker, and these, year by year, improved and perfected, make of harvest-time little more than a holiday. There remains for further accomplishment in this direction only the automatic binder, already a partial success, and quite sure to reach perfection in the near future.'20

Ingram's book showed that agriculture continued to occupy an important place among American industries, although much more of this volume was devoted to the types of manufactures important to city dwellers than was found in the book of the 1853 fair. He highlighted a portable straw-burning engine built by the Ames Iron Works in Oswego, New York: 'This boiler is constructed on the return-flue principle .... In the front end of the large flue, or fire-box, are placed the furnace doors, which are so arranged that a very slight pressure of a fork in inserting the straw easily opens them .... The boiler is so constructed that the fibre of the straw is entirely consumed, and the heat so thoroughly extracted from the smoke that nothing passes from the pipe but superfluous gas. A very convenient and desirable feature is, that the fire is instantly extinguished by simply throwing open the doors. This is particularly desirable in case of the discovery of low water in the boiler.'21

At the field trials, held at Schenck's Station, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the exposition, the Farquhar separator won the 'highest award of merit' for its 'form of threshing drum and concaves, the teeth being so shaped as to avoid breaking the grain,' for its 'vibrating carrier, composed of ribbed sheet iron with projecting notches, with open spaces for the passage of the grain to conveyer,' for 'the agitators which shake the grain from the straw,' for 'the adjustable self regulating fan,' and for 'the measuring hopper.'22 Farquhar's rice separator also received a medal.

American Cereal Co. (Quaker Oats) trade card from 1893, the year of the Columbian Exposition. (The artist probably copied the thresher from the cover of the 1893 J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co. catalogue, but the engine is more difficult to identify. Its smokestack resembles those of Russell engines from the time period.)

The 'Fearless' horse power and thresher and cleaner, manufactured by the Empire Agricultural Works of Cobleskill, New York, won the only medal given for both a horse power and a thresher/separator.23 J. I. Case and Company also earned medals for threshing equipment.24

In 1881 and 1887, Atlanta hosted expositions to 'advertise the New South to the nation.'25 After the devastation of the Civil War, the South had a strong interest in attracting business to the region. Southern states also hoped to promote trade with South American nations and Asia. At the Atlanta Cotton Exposition in 1881, the Monarch traction engine, manufactured by the Hooven, Owens & Rentschler Company of Hamilton, Ohio, won the First Premium.26 In the border state of Kentucky, Louisville held fairs from 1883 through 1887. In the deep South, New Orleans sponsored an exposition from 1884-85. Notable at that fair was a display of steam engines, sawmills, and agricultural implements manufactured by the Frick Company of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.27 Also on view were stationary engines working to provide power and electricity; these included Harris-Corliss, Lane & Bodley, Atlas, Westinghouse, and other makes, totaling to 5,937 horsepower.

In 1892, Arthur Briggs Farquhar, manufacturer of agricultural steam engines and farm implements, was appointed a commissioner to the Columbian Exposition, slated for 1893 in Chicago; he was in charge of practically all of Pennsylvania's participation in the fair, and his fellow commissioners elected Farquhar to preside over the board.28

On May 1, 1893, the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago was opened to the public by President Grover Cleveland, who had just been elected for his non-consecutive second term. In July at the Exposition, historians heard Frederick Jackson Turner's paper 'The Significance of the Frontier in American History'a document destined to inspire scholarly debate for generations. The Columbian Exposition featured a vast display of new and historic railroad locomotives. Thomas Alva Edison's electrical effects throughout the fairgrounds were extraordinary. The Exposition offered a bright interlude in a year of severe economic depression. For the convenience of fairgoers, the Monon Route ran twice daily Pullman vestibuled trains, with dining cars and sleepers known as 'velvet trains' between Cincinnati and Chicago.29

A photo which appeared in the July/August 1982 Album showing a 13 HP engine buit by Gaar, Scott & Co. for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. The engine's cylinder, whistle, safety valve, and hub caps were nickel-plated. Sanford Macy of Fountain City, Indiana, bought the engine and ran a sawmill with it for thirty years.

Chicago was poised to host a major world's fair: 'Chicago had come into itself in the decade before the Exposition. In 1871, the city had been razed by a fire, but in just twenty-two years, they had raised skyscrapers over the prairie and were ready to play host to the world.'30 A staggering twenty-eight million visitors attended the fair. The gate receipts totaled $14 million.

World's Fair Correspondent Trumbull White and William Igleheart, the World's Fair Editor of the Chicago Record, published the official book of the fair. Entitled The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, the 628-page octavo book showed that agriculture continued to be important enough to deserve a separate chapter. Forty-four engines the largest an E. P. Allis powered the exhibits. The Reeves Pulley Company of Columbus, Indiana, showed 'the largest wood split pulley ever constructed. It is eighteen feet in diameter with forty-eight inch face.'31 Firms exhibiting farm steam engines and related products included the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company of Mansfield, Ohio, the Geiser Manufacturing Company of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and the Gaar, Scott & Company of Richmond, Indiana.32

In 1895, Atlanta held the Cotton States and International Exposition. Such fairs 'were a sign of the New South's attempt to establish itself as a cultural and economic force at the end of the century.'33 If measured by gate receipts, Southern expositions in general were less successful than those held in the North, but they served their promotional purposes well. Not all Southern fairs failed to turn an immediate profit; for example, the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition enjoyed a good financial outcome. For that matter, not all Northern fairs were boons to their sponsors; in economic terms, the Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo in 1901, was more nearly a boondoggle. It also was the scene of the assassination of President William McKinley.

Beginning in 1901 and continuing into 1902, the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition took place in Charleston; the fair was established to promote trade with the West Indies.34

Steam locomobile on display at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition from John Wesley Hanson's The Official History of the Fair, St. Louis, 1904.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 was perhaps the last great American world's fair to pay any significant attention to agricultural equipment powered by steam. The 1944 MGM movie Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien, wove a romantic story around the year leading up to the St. Louis Exposition. The second largest box office hit since Gone with the Wind, Meet Me in St. Louis was based on a series of autobiographical stories written by Sally Benson and published in the New Yorker. Incidentally, unlike O'Brien's family in the movie, Benson's family moved away from St. Louis just before the fair opened, and Benson never got to see the fair.

Prominently displayed at the real fair were the products of the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company of Racine, Wisconsin.35 In a special exhibit on the progress in agricultural technology, a Geiser Manufacturing Company Peerless traction engine and eight-gang steam plow dwarfed the humble wooden plow which Daniel Webster had used on his father's farm.36 Light reflected from the nickel-plated cylinder, whistle, safety valve, and hub caps of a Gaar, Scott & Company engine.37 Visitors to the fair were also treated to a spectacular collection of twenty-six steam locomotives.38 According to John Wesley Hanson's 496-page octavo book entitled The Official History of the Fair, St. Louis, 1904, the exposition devoted considerable space to automobiles, including a mock-up of an early steam-powered locomobile.39

As long ago as 1874, the Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, in an article mentioning the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, predicted 'that in a few years these great city expositions, which serve more the curiosity than the interest of agriculturists, will cease to be so attractive to the rural population . . . .'40 That prophecy basically came true, although not until approximately thirty years later. By then, the world's fairs had changed their mission and were focusing more on the metropolitan future. Those interested in the machinery of threshing began to turn their attention to exhibits of equipment and competitions among engines at threshermen's meetings, such as the one held in Wichita in 1903. The principal venue for the display of new farming equipment reverted to the types of show in vogue before New York's Great Exhibition of Art and Industry in 1853: the agricultural fairs. Such fairs had been held consistently throughout the exposition era. For example, in 1860, A. Gaar & Company had won the Grand Gold Medal at the United States Agricultural Society Fair. At the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society Fair of 1884, the Geiser Manufacturing Company had taken the gold medal for the best steam plowing machine.41 For fifty years, though, threshing equipment had also paraded proudly before the throngs attending American world's fairs.


1Arthur Moore, The Farmer and the Rest of Us. Boston: Little, Brown, 1945; p. 130.

2Ed. Jim Swick, 'World's Fairs and Expositions: Defining America and the World, 1876-1916.' http: //www.boondocksnet. com/ex pos/

3'The Exposition.' http://www.ccpl.Org/ccl/studio/c hap1.htm

4Ed. Horace Greeley, Art and Industry as Represented in the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. New York: Redfield, 1853; pp. v-vi.

5Art and Industry, pp. 66-69.

6Art and Industry, pp. 70-78.

7'The Exposition.'

8Michael Williams, Steam Power in Agriculture. Dorset, England: Blandford, 1977; pp. 55-56.

9Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors. Cincinnati: Wiesen-Hart, 1943; p. 70.

10Robert T. Rhode, 'When Steam Was King . . . And Cincinnati Was Queen,' Queen City Heritage 55.1 (1997), pp. 41-43.

11George Beard Coffman, The Twenty Minute Whistle. Waynesboro: Caslon, 1997; pp. 35-36.

12'The Exposition.'

13'The Centennial Exhibition of 1876.' phia.text.html

14John A. Roebling began a suspension bridge in Cincinnati in 1857, but the Civil War interrupted construction. The famous bridge was opened to traffic in 1867, and the Roebling name rapidly became synonymous with superior even daring bridge construction.

15Centennial Exhibition.'

16J. S. Ingram, The Centennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated. Philadelphia: Hubbard Bros., 1876; p. 97.

17WiIIiam A. Mowry and Arthur May Mowry, American Inventions and Inventors. New York: Silver, Burdett, 1900, p. 181.

18'Gaar Mansion, 1876.' Pamphlet distributed by the Gaar House Museum, 2593 Pleasant View Road, Richmond, Indiana 47374.

19Joe Park and Lawrence Porter, 'Gaar, Scott & Co. Engineers and Engines Magazine April/May 1991, p. 41.

20Centennial Exposition, p. 244.

21Centennial Exposition, p. 248.

228881899 catalogue of the A. B. Farquhar Company, p. 38.

23Floyd Clymer's Album of Historical Steam Traction Engines. New York: Bonanza, 1949; p. 9.

24Dave Erb and Eldon Brumbaugh, Full Steam Ahead: J. I. Case Tractors & Equipment 1842-1955. St. Joseph: American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 1993; pp. 9, 19.

25'The Exposition.'

26Floyd Clymer's Album, p. 14.

27Cornell University's Making of America Project. http://-moa. cit. owse/MOA-JOURNALS2: MANU-0017/71/l:GIF89:100

28A. B. Farquhar, The First Million the Hardest. Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1922; p. 303.

29World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, World's Fair Route, hardcover accordion photograph booklet.

30'Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893.' text.html

31Trumbull White and William Igleheart, The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Jersey City, N. J.: Star, 1893; p. 150.

32White and Igleheart, World's Columbian Exposition, p. 180.

33'The Exposition.'

34'The Exposition.'

35The Greatest of Expositions, Completely Illustrated. St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Co., 1904; p. 186.

36The World's Work. New York: Doubleday Page, August 1904; p. 5170.

37Photo courtesy of Herbert Thurston (Fountain City, Indiana); first published in The Iron-Men Album Magazine for July/August 1982, p. 14.

38World's Work; p. 5096.

39John Wesley Hanson, The Official History of The Fair, St. Louis, 1904. St. Louis: n.p., 1904; p. 408. 40Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, 1874, Part II, Vol. 16. Indianapolis: Sentinel, 1875.

41Catalogue of the Spring Foundry Machine Works of A. Gaar & Company, p. 6 and inside back cover, and the 1889 catalogue of the Geiser Manufacturing Company, p. 18.