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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

FAIRS AND EXPOSITIONS

FAIRS AND EXPOSITIONS

FAIRS AND EXPOSITIONS. Fairs and expositions have always provided an outlet for the public expression of the fundamental temper and economy of a community. As a midwestern county seat, Cleveland participated early in the enthusiasm for agricultural fairs, which were so much a part of 19th-century rural life. In addition, historical and commemorative celebrations served as occasions for this public expression of the community spirit. The transformation of the city into a manufacturing and commercial power inspired industrial expositions that were tributes to the dynamics of the 20th century. These events demonstrated the latest developments in technology and style, and although not as large as the more famous "world's fairs," several of them were landmarks in Cleveland's history.

County agricultural societies and fairs sprang up from New England to the Mississippi in the 1820s, based on the model of the Berkshire County Fair, MA, in 1810. The Cuyahoga County Agricultural Society was established in 1823, but the first CUYAHOGA COUNTY FAIR did not take place until 1829. It was held in PUBLIC SQUARE and the courthouse (see ARCHITECTURE, CIVIC). Livestock was exhibited in the Square, and the household and domestic arts were displayed in the FIRST PRESBYTERIAN (OLD STONE) CHURCH. However, the operation of the Cuyahoga County agricultural fair was not continuous. Revived in the late 1840s and 1850s, fairs were held on fairgrounds on Kinsman St., and in NEWBURGH and CHAGRIN FALLS. In 1893 the fair became established in BEREA at the Eastland Rd. site, where it continued to flourish for the next 100 years.

In 1870 the State Board of Agriculture selected Springfield as the location of the Ohio State Fair, and a group of Cleveland businessmen, including AMASA STONE and JEPTHA H. WADE, decided that Cleveland would have its own fair. A private company, the Northern Ohio Fair Assn., was incorporated in Feb. 1870. The purpose of the association was to promote agriculture, horticulture, and the mechanical arts and, because of the gentlemen's interests, to develop trotting races. Ninety acres of land were purchased on St. Clair Ave. in GLENVILLE, and exhibition buildings were erected, including an amphitheater seating 12,000. The first fair was held 4-7 Oct. 1870. The attendance was 85,000, more than the state fair attracted. The Northern Ohio Fair was discontinued after 1881, and the buildings were sold.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, a special impetus for public events was provided by the collective experience of a nation at war. The NORTHERN OHIO SANITARY FAIR in Feb. and March 1864 was a fundraising effort to help the Civil War, and the $78,000 it raised went to the Soldiers Aid Society and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. A large cross-shaped building was erected in Public Square, the wings of which contained an assembly hall seating 3,000, a floral hall, a dining hall, and the exhibition hall. Exhibits included livestock, implements, and art objects, and many of them were auctioned for the fund. In the 20th century, the Allied War Exposition came to Cleveland in 1918 to promote the sale of war-saving stamps for WORLD WAR I. Three miles of trenches represented a battlefield on the lakefront between E. 9th and W. 9th Sts. A mock battle was enacted, and weapons, machinery, and other war equipment were displayed. Ironically, the exposition opened on 16 Nov., 5 days after the signing of the armistice. During the World War II years (1939-45), an annual FESTIVAL OF FREEDOM was presented, called "the nation's largest" 4th of July celebration. Pageants, mock battles, fireworks, and demonstrations by patriotic and military organizations drew capacity crowds to the CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM every year.

Twice in the course of its history, Cleveland has mounted a major centennial exposition. The 100th anniversary of Moses Cleaveland's landing in 1796 was the occasion of a great celebration from 19 July-10 Sept. 1896 (see CLEVELAND ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS). A large temporary triumphal arch was erected over Superior Ave. directly north of the recently completed SOLDIERS' & SAILORS' MONUMENT. Constructed of a wooden frame covered with lath and plaster, the Centennial Arch was 79' high, 106' wide, 20' thick, and illuminated at night with 900 electric lamps. The new CENTRAL ARMORY, erected in 1893, was the scene of mass meetings, concerts and a historical musical spectacle, gymnastic exhibitions by GERMAN, CZECH, and Swiss groups, and a floral exhibition.

The most memorable exhibition in Cleveland's history was the GREAT LAKES EXPOSITION of 1936 and 1937, planned to commemorate the centennial of Cleveland's incorporation as a city, as well as to celebrate the industrial trade empire of the 8 states bordering on the Great Lakes. The exposition benefited from the experimental work on quick and inexpensive construction at Chicago's Century of Progress in 1933-34. The style of the exposition's buildings was "simple, straight-forward, colorful and severe," and the architects hoped that they would "establish a trend in modern design just as did the buildings of the Columbian Exposition and the Century of Progress." The fair was held on the MALL, in the PUBLIC AUDITORIUM and underground exhibition hall, and on the lakefront area created on filled land and reached by a bridge over the railroad tracks. Five major structures were erected, plus many notable smaller buildings and industrial exhibits. The festival atmosphere was enhanced through color and light. Ever since 1896, Cleveland's expositions have made artificial illumination an important feature, and the use of light as an architectural element was one of the major contributions of the Great Lakes Exposition. As a demonstration of 20th-century scientific systems and functional design, the lighting and architecture of the exposition made a contribution that has been unjustly overshadowed by the more renowned world's fairs.

As an industrial exposition, the 1936 exposition was the climax of a series of expositions that began early in the century, when influential citizens realized that Cleveland was one of the most important industrial and commercial centers in America. In 1908 the Chamber of Commerce began planning a Cleveland INDUSTRIAL EXPOSITION of the products of local manufacturers. The exposition committee "wanted Clevelanders to understand the message of stack, and hammer, and wheel, and to realize the extent and variety and quality of Cleveland-made products." No existing public hall could accommodate the 280 exhibitors, and a temporary building covering 57,036 sq. ft. was constructed on the present city hall site at the foot of E. 6th St. The Central Armory provided additional exhibition space, and the two buildings were connected by a bridge over Lakeside Ave. The exposition was held in June 1909 and was attended by 215,000 persons, breaking all records for such expositions. The temporary building was an innovative structure with outer walls of wood covered with plaster and roofed with a tent. Three 70' masts with radiating steel struts like an umbrella supported a network of cables that held the fireproof canvas roof. The street approaches were elaborately decorated, and the exposition lighting was supplied by 20,000 electric lamps.

In 1914 the Cleveland Electrical Exposition was held to demonstrate the efficiency of electricity in illuminating, power, and household use. The exhibit was inaugurated on 20 May by Thos. A. Edison in the WIGMORE COLISEUM (Dodge-13th Bldg.). The displays confirmed Cleveland's leadership in the industry, owing in part to the work of CHAS. F. BRUSH and the presence of the Natl. Electric Lamp Assn. and Westinghouse in Cleveland. In 1915 the Cleveland Automobile Show was held in the coliseum, demonstrating Cleveland's preeminence in the automotive manufacturing field before it was superseded by Detroit in the 1920s. Of the 29 makes displayed, nearly all were defunct just 20 years later. The most important exhibition of the 1920s was the Cleveland Industrial Exposition of 1927. It took place from 6-28 Aug. in the Public Auditorium, the plaza that had been cleared so far for the Mall, and a temporary west wing on the west side of the plaza. The exposition attracted 650,000 visitors during 23 days.

With the completion of the Public Auditorium in 1922, and 10 years later the Lakeside underground exhibition hall, Cleveland was provided with a permanent public convention and exhibition center for the first time. The first exhibit in the auditorium was the American Bldg. Exposition, and the Annual Automobile Show became a regular attraction in Jan. 1924. Another regular exhibitor was the Natl. Machine Tool Builders Assn., which began annual exhibitions in 1927. In the postwar period, the parade of industrial exhibitions continued, but any attempt to list the innumerable shows would be impossible. One of the most popular perennial exhibitions was the GREATER CLEVELAND HOME & FLOWER SHOW, first held in 1941. In 1964 the convention center was greatly enlarged, and in the 1980s a rival facility known as the I-X CENTER was created in the former Cleveland Tank Plant. In part because of these facilities, by the last quarter of the century the constant schedule of industrial and trade shows seems to have replaced the major exposition as the means of promoting Cleveland marketing across a wide region.

Eric Johannesen (dec.)