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Exposition Records of the Smithsonian Institution and the United States National Museum, 1867-1940

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Catalog Data

Smithsonian Institution  Search this
Ravenel, W. de C (William de Chastignier) 1859-1933  Search this
Government Board of Management  Search this
United States Fish Commission  Search this
Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)  Search this
Cotton States Exposition (1895 : Atlanta, Ga.)  Search this
Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940 : San Francisco, Calif.)  Search this
London International Fisheries Exposition (1883)  Search this
Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 : Saint Louis, Mo.)  Search this
Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915 : San Francisco, Calif.)  Search this
Pan-American Exposition (1901 : Buffalo, N.Y.)  Search this
World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.)  Search this
World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition (1884-1885 : New Orleans, La.)  Search this
Berlin International Fisheries Exposition (1880: Berlin, Germany)  Search this
Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition (1898 : Omaha, Neb.)  Search this
California-Pacific International Exposition (1935-1936 : San Diego, California)  Search this
Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-1934 : Chicago, Ill.)  Search this
World's Poultry and Congress Exposition (Seventh) (1939 : Cleveland, Ohio)  Search this
International Exposition of Art and Technique in Modern Life (1937 : Paris)  Search this
Cincinnati Industrial Exposition (1884)  Search this
Columbian Historical Exposition, Madrid, Spain (1892)  Search this
Great Lakes Exposition 1936-1937: Cleveland, Ohio)  Search this
Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition (1905 : Portland, Or.)  Search this
Southern Exposition (1883 : Louisville, Ky.)  Search this
New York World's Fair (1939-1940 : New York, N.Y.)  Search this
Panama-California Exposition (1915-1916 : San Diego, Calif.)  Search this
Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition (1897 : Nashville, Tenn.)  Search this
Texas Centennial Exposition (1936 : Dallas)  Search this
Physical description:
57.77 cu. ft. (91 document boxes) (7 half document boxes) (15 12x17 boxes) (3 16x20 boxes) (2 cu. ft. large oversize box) (oversize materials)
Exhibition catalogs
Collection descriptions
Black-and-white photographs
Floor plans
Letterpress copybooks
Picture postcards
Serials (publications)
The Smithsonian Institution made great contributions to the Centennial Exposition of 1876, under the personal supervision of Assistant Secretary Spencer F. Baird. From that time the Institution participated in many national and international expositions. These records comprise most of the extant documentation for that activity.
Several factors complicated these records, making them difficult to describe and to use. In fact, what is called the exposition series is not really homogeneous. Parts of it were clearly kept in a separate exposition file; just as certainly, parts of it were removed from other series. The records originated in several offices and were sometimes mixed as they were created. Moreover, the organization of the Institution itself led to some confusion in record-keeping. The Smithsonian Institution conceived the National Museum as a government bureau placed under Smithsonian care. As a rule, the Smithsonian and the National Museum each appointed the same representative to the expositions -- the Assistant Secretary for the National Museum. But in spite of this unity at the top, assistants from the two branches participated in planning and creating exhibits; several different offices within the Museum and the Institution generated records for a single exposition. Most confusing of all, representatives of the Smithsonian carried letterhead stationery with them into the field, a practice which played havoc with the traditional division of incoming and outgoing correspondence. Sometimes copies from the same person are both outgoing to the field and incoming from the field in the same volume.
The expositions themselves were often closely related. The exhibits assembled for one exposition were frequently taken up en masse for another. Thus, the Philadelphia Centennial exhibits furnished much of the material for the Berlin International Fisheries Exposition in 1880, for the London International Fisheries Exposition in 1883, and for the Louisville-Cincinnati-New Orleans Expositions from 1883 to 1885. Similarly, the exhibits for the Lewis and Clark Exposition held in Portland, Oregon, during 1905 were drawn almost entirely from those previously created for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis in 1904.
For a further history of the creating unit, refer to the highlighted link "Forms Part of" above.
(1) Exposition Records of the Smithsonian Institution, the United States National Museum, and the United States Fish Commission, chronologic by exposition, 1875-1940; (2) Government Board records and Smithsonian exposition records of William deC. Ravenel, chronologic by exposition, 1907-1919
The Centennial Exposition itself is poorly represented here, but it is documented in Baird's official and personal papers. The preservation of other records has been uneven and is not proportional to the importance of the exposition. There are far more records for the Southern Exposition, Louisville, 1883; the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, 1884; and the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, New Orleans, 1884-1885, than for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, for instance, though the latter was surely more noteworthy.
The most extensive exposition records in the Archives are those for the Louisville-Cincinnati-New Orleans Expositions, 1883 to 1885; the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892 to 1894 in Chicago; the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, 1895; the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York,1901; the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis, 1904; the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco, 1915; and the Panama-California Exposition at San Diego, 1916. Among the less well documented expositions are the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876; the Tennessee Centennial at Nashville, 1897; the Omaha, Trans-Mississippi, and International Exposition, 1898; the Lewis and Clark Exposition, 1905, in Portland, Oregon; the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, 1933; the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, 1935; the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, 1936; the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, 1936-1937; the International Exposition of Art and Technique in Modern Life, Paris, 1937; the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939; the Seventh World's Poultry Congress and Exposition, Cleveland, 1939; and the New York World's Fair, 1939.
The records of foreign expositions are less fully preserved than domestic ones. Exceptions are the Berlin International Fisheries Exposition of 1880 and, to a lesser degree, the London International Fisheries Exposition of 1883 and Columbian Historical Exposition at Madrid in 1892.
These records document the fiscal and technical aspects of exposition planning and, to some extent, museum practice in the nineteenth century. The volume of records varies from exposition to exposition. In some cases it is possible to follow planning, development, and operation of an exhibition virtually from inception to closing. The records include incoming and outgoing correspondence between Washington and the field agent; negotiations with suppliers and shippers -- including invoices, bills, and vouchers; plans, sketches, and photographs of exhibits; and publications. Many announcements, certificates, and photographs are in oversize.
Also included are Government Board records and Smithsonian Exposition records of William deC. Ravenel, who was Administrative Assistant at the Museum. Between 1907 and 1919 he served as the Smithsonian's official representative to six expositions. At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and the Panama-California International Exposition in San Diego in 1916, he also served as Secretary of the Government Board of Management.
Repository Loc.:
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520
Traveling exhibitions  Search this
Local number:
SIA RU000070
Data Source:
Smithsonian Institution Archives