The 1893 Columbian Exposition was an iconic event in American history. World's Fairs broadly are useful occasions to examine cultural representation and have long been a favorite subject of cultural historians. The images and documents below illustrate the Austrian presence at the fair in Chicago. The exhibits demonstrate Austria's goal of presenting itself as both a place of high culture and a modern manufacturing center. Excerpts from American guidebooks relate how Austria's exhibits were received. The documents also raise perspectives on the monarchy, dualism, class-based material culture, recurring symbols, and Austria's interpretation of “Liberty” and “Progress.”

A. Alt Wien


Old Vienna was a reproduction of “Der Graben,” a part of Austria's capital as it existed 150 years ago. The concession covered an area of 195 x 590 feet, and within its central court the wants of hungry multitudes were supplied, and an Austrian orchestra discoursed the sweetest of music during certain hours of the day. The combination consisting of good things for the inner man, architecture that enchanted the eye, and sounds that pleased the ear made it one of the most popular resorts on the Midway.


Source: The Columbian Exposition Album: Containing Views of the Grounds, Main and State Buildings, Statuary, Architectural Details, Interiors, Midway Plaisance Scenes, and other Interesting Objects which had Place at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1893), 181.

B. Façade of the Austrian Manufactures Section


The Façade of the Austrian Section in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was one of the interesting objects on Columbia Avenue—as the main roadway from north to south was called. It measured 120 feet in length, and the top of the main entrance rose to a height of sixty-five feet. It was in itself an exhibit of the highest order. The Austrian collection was chiefly remarkable for the great display made by Vienna wood-carvers, the exquisite gold, silver, and porcelain wares, textile fabrics, statuettes, etc.


Source: The Columbian Exposition Album: Containing Views of the Grounds, Main and State Buildings, Statuary, Architectural Details, Interiors, Midway Plaisance Scenes, and other Interesting Objects which had Place at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1893), 186.

C. Interior the Austrian Exhibit


Source: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs: New York Public Library Digital Collections, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-5fde-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

D. Descriptions of Austrian Exhibits

Hon. Anton von Palitschek-Palmforst, LL.D., Imperial Royal Commissioner General; Mr. Alexander Poppovics, Assistant Imperial Royal Commissioner; Gaston Bodart, LL.D., Assistant Imperial Royal Commissioner; Mr. Emil Bressler, Architect, Imperial Royal Commission; Air. Hans Temple, Delegate for Fine Arts; Mr. Victor Pillwax, Treasurer; Mr. Josef Grünwald, Official Commercial Representative; Mr. Emil S. Fischer, Superintendent; Mr. Raphael Kuhe, Official Commercial Representative; Mr. Robert B. Jentzsch, Superintendent of Old Vienna.

Austria displays a comprehensive and extensive illustration of the growth and development of its industry, education and science. This exhibit of Austrian industry and art has been prepared with the greatest energy, and it will be found to well fill its place to testify to the industry and intelligence of its people, and the occasion will undoubtedly result in the further increase of those agreeable relations which exist between Austria and the United States.

In the Department of Manufactures Austria has the space just north of the German exhibit. Each of three entrances is guarded by tall pillars surmounted by Austrian eagles. The pavilions are all mounted with the Austrian crown in gold. Soaps and perfumes, paper and paper-pulp, artists' materials, portieres, screens, furniture, terra cotta, porcelain, majolica and faience articles, mosaics, bronze goods, fancy glassware, amber and meerschaum work, gold and silverware, jewelry, goods of shell and horn, silks and velvets, cotton, linen and damask goods, woolens, gloves, hats, buttons, combs, leather goods, rubber goods, tin plate goods, steam cooking apparatus, steel goods, pearl goods, bathing appliances, closets, billiard cues, glass bricks for building purposes, wood carvings, watches, watch works, pipes, stoves and ranges, etc., are to be found in this department.

In the Department of Electricity are shown electrical apparatus, supplies, lamps, clocks, control apparatus, etc.

In the Department of Liberal Arts exhibits are made of medical, surgical and pharmaceutical appliances, school apparatus, statistical and geographical maps and illustrations, photographs, instruments of precision, letter boxes, musical instruments, etc.

Agricultural products, appliances for the cultivation of bees, hops, mineral waters, insecticides, malts, liqueurs, publications on seed raising, wax and waxen goods, oils, etc., are to be seen in the Department of Agriculture.

In the Department of Forestry woodstuffs, seed collections, rushes and last-goods are shown.

The invitation issued to the monarchy by the government of the United States to take part officially in the World's Columbian Exposition was most willingly accepted by Austria, while Hungary declined official participation, being now chiefly interested in her Millennial Exposition to be held in the year 1896 at Buda-Pesth. The Austrian government devoted a sum of 275,000 florins for this enterprise. The space allotted to Austria in the different buildings amounts to about 89,790 square feet, of which about 53,000 are in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building.


Source: “Austria,” in Moses P. Handy, ed., The Official Directory of the World's Columbian Exposition, May 1st to October 30th, 1893. A Reference Book of Exhibitors and Exhibits … Together with Accurate Descriptions of All State, Territorial, Foreign, Departmental and Other Buildings and Exhibits, and General Information Concerning the Fair (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1983), 106.

E. Ornate Habsburg Interiors


The Austrian Princess drawing room, Liberal Arts Building, Columbian Exposition.


Source: Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs: New York Public Library Digital Collections, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-5f78-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

F. Describing Austrian Craftsmanship

The great Austrian Empire has no special building in the Foreign Group, but has made ample amends by the splendor of her pavilion and the richness of her exhibits in this building. The main portal is a beautiful arch, supported by pillars and caryatides. The panels on the wings are ornamented with colored shields. Entering, we seem to gaze upon a bed of diamonds. The eyes are almost blinded by the many-colored lights that flash and sparkle from the abundant variety of Bohemian glass before us. Not only is each piece exquisite in itself, but the whole mass is entrancingly beautiful. There is a magnificent exhibit of china, gold and silver medallions, bronze and enameled tiles, from Vienna. Against the walls, candelabra, lamps and braziers of silver, iron and bronze, are grouped in great profusion. Some of the handsomest curtains to be found in the whole exhibition are here. They are made of surah silk, richly brocaded in floral patterns. The ground tone of one especially fine pair is a delicate slaty gray, others are brown. One particularly attractive pair is of rich green velvet. In the porcelain exhibit, we find some beautiful vases valued at $2000. The Royal Museum of Art and Industry, of Vienna, is a large contributor. Its display consists of cabinets inlaid with mother-of-pearl, cut glass, gold and silver jewelry, painting on metal…. Looking very beautiful in their satin and velvet cases, a tempting display of cleverly carved meerschaum pipes, with large glowing amber mouth-pieces, arrests the eye. A complete line of shopping bags, porte-monnaies and cigar-cases, of seal and antelope skin, attract by their excellent finish and apparent soundness of manufacture. The fans are simply bewitching. It must be a very plain face indeed that would not look beautiful behind one of these dreams in ivory, lace and feathers. Austria makes a remarkable showing in leather. The walls of the pavilion are hung with this material, finely figured. Many exquisite screens in morocco, some of them belonging to the Emperor, are shown. Paintings on leather, furniture, splendidly upholstered in the embossed material, picture-frames, and screens with photographs set into them, attest the ingenuity of the leather-workers of this great Empire. There are also some mirrors of very rare workmanship.

Austria has nine distinct nations within her borders, and this exhibit seems compacted of the genius of them all. There is a queer mixture of the mediæval and the modern…. In the foreground, two lofty pillars support the arms, and are crowned by the eagles of Austro-Hungary, and between them stretches a long vista of glittering glass and china, with numerous other exhibits…. There is one great central room, flanked by smaller ones, each thirty feet deep and filled with exhibits. Over thirty of the best wood-carvers of Austria make a wonderful and unique display in one of these rooms. The furniture exhibit of Austria is not so elaborate as that of France, but it appeals to working people with limited means. The work in bamboo and bentwood is particularly fine. One Vienna firm employs eleven thousand men and women in twenty-one factories, working in this material. In porcelain, Austria excels. There is a fine exhibit of flowers made of this material, the leaves of colored silk; these are very true to nature, and the mosaics with Alpine photographs attract a great deal of attention. Terra cotta, faience and enameled ware, fill one compartment, and are well worth days of study. Some idea of the greatness of this exhibit may be formed from the fact that two hundred and three firms are represented in this pavilion alone. We find here some very rich suits of armor from Vienna and Prague, and a collection of antique weapons, some of which have been a long time in the possession of the House of Hapsburg. The armor in our picture forms a part of the royal exhibit. In bronze work, the Austrian display is inferior to that of France, but in the domain of glass and wood-carving, she has no rival. Her pavilion is always filled with an admiring crowd, and expressions of delight and wonder may be heard on every side. One is constantly tempted to violate the printed injunction, “Please do not touch,” for the fingers itch to revel among the charming articles. The Emperor, Franz Josef, has not spared the treasures of his palaces, but has been very generous in sending objects of interest and great value. Though we are republicans, we cannot fail to bestow a meed of honor upon those sovereigns who have aided the Fair.

The picture before us represents the exhibit of the oldest glass factory in Bohemia, that paradise of the industry. It forms a parterre of radiance; when the sun strikes upon it, the mass glitters like a thousand rainbows. There are vases here worth more than $2000, and little cups that one can purchase for five cents; yet as far as the untrained eye can discern, the cups are, in their way, as beautiful as the vases. One thousand men are employed in this factory alone, and tens of thousands more throughout Bohemia. The art is taught in special schools in that land, and every care is taken to perfect the artists in their profession, which requires years of study to master. Some of these vases, and most of the cups, have smooth surfaces, and it is to them we must turn for a study of color. Gold, or amber, and red in many shades, are the prevailing hues, but, when turned to the light, you will find the ground color shot through with iridescent sheen, in which a faint satiny blue prevails. The secret of this color method has never been fully understood by other nations. America produces some lovely glassware, but none that can rival this. Some of the cups and vases are like the purest crystal, while others have the peculiar steel-blue tint of the heart of an iceberg…. Thus far we have spoken only of plain surfaces, but the great marvel of the exhibit lies in the work in enamel and mosaic, done on the glass. Some of the pieces look as though encrusted with gems; rubies, emeralds, topazes, sapphires, onyx, opals, all are imitated in the ware, and each seems to preserve its native light. Other pieces are pictured in wonderful fashion; some with raised medallions, others with rural scenes, and others again with allegorical subjects….

The two vases in this picture form a unique feature in the Exposition. They represent “Liberty” and “Progress,” and were designed and painted by the chief designer of the Imperial Court Theatre, in Vienna. The details were studied with the greatest care from materials furnished by the chief museums of Art and History in Europe, so that the artist has been able to depict exact representations of the faces, costumes and surroundings. There are ten scenes on the Vases, the first being the signing of “The Declaration of American Independence.” In it, the figure of George Washington is made specially prominent; all the faces are portraits; the next scene is “The Discovery of Steam Power;” and the third, “The Abolition of Slavery.” In this we see Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet; each figure is brought out clearly, and is readily recognizable; this view is seen in our picture. On the other Vase you may see “The Landing of Christopher Columbus, 1492;” it shows the discoverer just landing, and thanking God for his deliverance. This is followed by “The Discovery of Electricity;” in this painting, the figure of electricity holds, in her left hand, the wire of telegraphy and electric lighting, while a cupid, standing near, is listening to messages of love, communicated by telephone. Another picture, called “The Magna Charta,” shows the meeting between King John and his barons at Runnymede, June 15, 1215; the Sovereign is just in the act of signing the great charter. “The Invention of Gunpowder” is also shown under the picture of Magna Charta; it represents a goddess applying a torch to a cannon, while a miniature figure of War is ramming the powder home. “The Taking of the Bastile” forms the next subject, and, in the picture, the strong and gloomy prison with its eight towers is shown. This is followed by “The Battle of Sempach,” fought in 1386 by the Swiss confederates against Austria. In this battle the Swiss gained their liberty, and established the first modern Republic; the picture represents the moment when Arnold Von Winkelreid cleared a way for his countrymen by gathering a sheaf of Austrian spears into his own breast. The last picture illustrates “The Invention of Printing.” Johann Gutenberg's portrait is seen in this picture, resting against an old printing press. The works in which these Vases were made is situated in Altrohiau, Bohemia.


Source: James W. Shepp and Daniel B. Shepp, Shepp's World's Fair Photographed: Being a Collection of Original Copyrighted Photographs, Authorized and Permitted by the Management of the World's Columbian Exposition, Consisting of Photographs … All Described in Crisp and Beautiful Language (Chicago and Philadelphia: Global Bible Publishing Co., 1893), 76-82.

G. Depicting “Liberty” and “Progress”


“Austria—Vases, ‘Liberty’ and ‘Progress.’”


Source: James W. Shepp and Daniel B. Shepp, Shepp's World's Fair Photographed: Being a Collection of Original Copyrighted Photographs, Authorized and Permitted by the Management of the World's Columbian Exposition, Consisting of Photographs … All Described in Crisp and Beautiful Language (Chicago and Philadelphia: Global Bible Publishing Co., 1893), 83.

H. Austrian Day at the Fair

Austrian Day was celebrated yesterday on the Exposition Grounds. This date was chosen because it coincides with the birthday of Franz Joseph, emperor of Austria and Hungary. The festival was a spectacular event which comprised three events, the parade, the celebration at the Choral Hall and at the Industrial Palace and finally the gathering at Old Vienna.

The parade traversed the main business section…. The weather was ideal. This was the first time that the Chicago Austrian and Hungarian clubs had united for a mass demonstration of such gigantic proportions, and one must grant that it was a huge success especially in view of the short advance notice.

The parade started on Wabash Ave., near the Auditorium. At its head was Mr. Ignatz Baum, festival marshal and chairman of the celebration committee.

Unfortunately, one of the most elaborate floats, the one which portrayed the Vindobona had an accident…. A wheel broke off and the horses shied. Consequently five lovely ladies had to display their gorgeous gala regalia in a hired back. There was no alternative….

The advance guard of the parade consisted of a troupe of Chicago policemen, led by Lieut. Collins. Then followed the aforementioned marshal with his staff and the guests of honor, about 50 Germans who were exhibitors at the Fair. These gentlemen rode in gaily decorated cabs. Next in order came the division of “Allied Austrians and Bavarians,” who are ethnologically related.

The Austrian-Bavarian Ladies' Club members rode in pompous coaches decorated with ornate green embellishments…. The Columbia Zither Club was also in this group. The next division was composed of men and comely girls from Tirol and Voralberg. A cavalcade of 25 Czikos (Hungarian Cowboys) in their fantastic costumes, wide, white pants, red corset-shaped jacket with black cords, round hat with conspicuous band displaying the Hungarian colors, green, white, red, closed the parade.

We express our appreciation for the generous participation of the Hungarian clubs, which supplied a surprisingly large contingent. This last division contained the Austrian-Hungarian Club, The Hungarian Aid Society, Hungarian Veterans, Hungarian Society, the Sarah Lodge of the Sisters of Humanity and the King David Lodge. Most of them rode in coaches.

The Austrian and Honved cavalry deserves to be mentioned. They maintained order throughout the parade. The festively decorated floats in their varied lines, as well as the allegorical and historical groups did much to enhance the color scheme…. At the Music Hall the main program was composed of speeches and music. Knights in armor flanked the American and Austrian flags, the crown and bust of the Austrian emperor were displayed on the stage and … a eulogy of Austrian accomplishments, was made by Dr. S. D. Sewards of New York….

The next address was given by Dr. Henry Bak of Chicago. He said: “Today's celebration is watched with interest by our old fatherland. It will prove to Austria that we have not forgotten it, that it is still living in our hearts. Today we proclaim Austria's and Hungary's glory…. Our patriotism is genuine and intense. Such a faithful son also makes a good citizen of America. We experience a constant yearning for the church steeples and the verdant hills of our homeland and for the trees shading the graves of our forefathers. This awakens in us a tender love for the land of our cradle, it makes us anxious to make sacrifices for our beloved fatherland.”

He then spoke of Austrian accomplishments, particularly of the exhibits at the Columbian Exposition. His closing remarks were: “Our beloved fatherland, and our new country—will always be dear to us. Hail Columbia is written on our banner, and ‘Home, Sweet Home’ will forever echo in our hearts.”

Mr. Hovarth was the Hungarian speaker…. The festival ended amidst the melodious strains of Rubinstein's “Banquet.” In Old Vienna at the Fair military music furnished the chief attraction. The Austrian National Hymn, and the German “Heil Dir, Im Siegerkranz,” were played…. Congratulatory telegrams were sent to the Emperor of Austria, this day being his birthday.


Source: “Austrian Day,” Illinois Staats-Zeitung, Aug. 19, 1893. (Available at http://flps.newberry.org/article/5418474_7_1611/.)