The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

Guide your students to explore how a variety of transportation issues were solved during the exposition, the connections it made with transportation of the past, and the inspiration it provided for transportation developments in the future.


5 - 8


Engineering, Social Studies, U.S. History

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Idea for Use in the Classroom

Ask students what they know about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to understand whether they have any prior knowledge. Ask students if they can guess which event the exposition was intended to celebrate. (Columbus sailing to the New World.) Prompt them by noting it was the 400th anniversary of something important. Emphasize the name of the exposition (“World’s Columbian Exposition”). If necessary, inform them that the exposition was originally meant to take place in 1892, but was delayed. Ask students how this anniversary relates to the overall theme of transportation.

Next have students look at an 1886 map of Chicago and discuss locations that might have been appropriate for the exposition to take place, and why. Take a class vote. Then show them the map of the actual exposition location, have them find the location on the map of the entire city, and discuss why it might have been selected.

How was Chicago an ideal choice for an event focused on transportation? (Major railway center, access to the Great Lakes for water transport.) Divide the class into groups, and assign each group one of the different modes of transportation integral to the exposition. (These would include boat, train, electric rail, and moving sidewalk.) Have each group research how these modes of transportation developed in the decades since the exposition. How are they still used today? Have each group present their findings to the class.

Read aloud the portion of the infographic concerning Henry Ford and the internal combustion engine. Lead a class discussion: How and why did automobiles surpass the other modes of transportation shown at the exposition to become such an important part of modern life?

To extend their learning, have each student select and research any transportation topic mentioned on the infographic, with particular attention to its development before, during, and after the fair. Topics could range from the relationship of Chicago and Lake Michigan to Chicago’s mass transit system, to the voyage or construction of any of the replica ships, to the development of the bicycle, to how the fair accommodated car traffic. Share links to the resources as appropriate.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

April 23, 2024

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