The Vault – The 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition

This month marks 128 years since the start of Chicago’s famed World’s Columbian Exhibition, and the Baird & Warner connection to the major event runs deeper than many people know.

Hosted in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas, the six-month event drew an estimated 26 million people. The World’s Columbian Exhibition also launched inventions and products still beloved around the world today, including the Ferris Wheel, the zipper, and Cracker Jack snacks.

Wyllys Baird and George Warner, the firm’s eponymous co-partners, were active members of the Chicago
Real Estate Board at the time of the world’s fair planning and supported a tax increase to cover the costs of the World’s Columbian Exhibition (along with the majority of the board). In contrast, they opposed Lake Front Park (now known as Grant Park) as the location.

Wyllys and George organized a delegation to go to Springfield to voice support for an alternate venue. Eventually, only one building was built in Lake Front Park for the fair, which became The Art Institute of Chicago. The rest of the fair was in Jackson Park.

Wyllys was invited to the fair’s groundbreaking in 1892 and served as a “block decorator” for part of the loop. George was featured as a “representative of the men and women of Chicago” in a souvenir book that profiled notable Chicago leaders.

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