From middling to mighty — State’s hand in World’s Fairs

In 1876, the United States held its first World’s Fair to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. World’s fairs in the United States invite participation from every state, with each state funding its own building and displays. Arkansas’ participation in numerous world’s fairs in the United States presented an opportunity to advertise the state’s achievements and promote reconciliation.

The Octagonal Arkansas Building at the Centennial Exposition was constructed entirely from native Arkansas woods, and a large, bronzed iron acanthus fountain donated by the Little Rock and Pine Bluff Women’s Centennial Club adorns the center of the Octagonal Exposition Hall. Cotton plants were also exhibited by the thousands, and visitors took cotton balls as souvenirs as well as sacks of shelled corn. The variety of minerals on display include iron, zinc, silver, copper, lead, granite, limestone, kaolin clay, coal and more. The Arkansas Women’s Reception Room displayed portraits of prominent Arkansans such as Chester Ashley and Sandy Faulkner, as well as a painting titled “The Arkansas Traveler” complemented by the tune “Arkansas Traveler” played on the piano.

Although displayed in the Women’s Pavilion rather than the state exhibit, “Dreaming Iolanthe,” a butter sculpture created by Helena resident Caroline Brooks, attracted considerable praise and attention. As people began to question its authenticity, she recreated it as a special display of her technique. Brooks may have greatly inspired future butter sculptures that appeared at later state and world fairs.

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The Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago in 1893. Although business leaders met in 1891 to encourage Arkansas’ participation in the Columbian Exposition, the state legislature did not properly fund the state’s Exposition until 1893, and then appropriated far less than was requested. . Jean Loughborough-Douglas designed the state building, which is described as a French Rococo or Renaissance style. In the center of the rotunda’s courtyard, a fountain designed by Sarah Ellsworth of Hot Springs featured crystals from the area, with the fountain basin formed from granite from Little Rock. A 14,000-pound piece of zinc from Marion County, 6 feet long, 7 feet wide, was placed on display in the mining building. A specimen of the state forests to rival California’s “Hooker Oak” was a specimen oak that was 125 feet tall and 33 feet in girth. State Geologist John C. A large relief map of Arkansas created by Branner outlines the locations of mineral deposits, timber, prairies, and swamp lands, acknowledging the diversity of resources within the state.

Inspired by the Arkansas exhibit, the musical DeMoss family composed the song, “My Happy Little Home in Arkansas.” The song described Arkansas as “ever green” and a place where “the famous premium apples grow” and cotton, sugar cane, and all kinds of grain are grown.

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The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka World’s Fair) in St. Louis celebrated the Louisiana Purchase. Frank W. of Little Rock. The state building was designed by Gibb in the neoclassical style. The Arkansas Mines and Metallurgy exhibit at the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy includes aluminum ore, Arkansas bauxite, phosphate rock, coal from the Consolidated Anthracite Coal Company in Sprada, and quartz crystals. After the exhibit ended, AF Wolf purchased the building in Arkansas, and it was rebuilt to serve as a private residence in Fayetteville at Mount Nord.

Such displays of “progress” as the World’s Fairs did not include black achievements since emancipation, and blacks fought discrimination and exclusion from the fairs from the beginning. The Arkansas demonstrations were no different. As reported in the Arkansas Gazette, in 1893 an educational exhibit was presented at the state fair that included the work of students from Arkansas””colored” schools. The only other mention was in 1902. Blacks were directly involved in the state’s exposition, while the Arkansas Negro Section formed to represent the black citizens of Arkansas at the upcoming St. Louis Fair. Although none of the final publications mentioned a Negro Section exhibit, additional research is needed in this area. is

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Arkansas participated in several other fairs on a smaller scale—the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial (New Orleans, 1884–85); Cotton States and the International Exposition (Atlanta, 1895); Trans-Mississippi International Exposition (Omaha, 1898); and the Golden Gate International Exposition (San Francisco, 1939) — but this is not so well documented. Arkansas participated in another major fair with The World of Tomorrow in New York in 1939, but the state’s participation in these fairs was funded by individuals and businesses rather than tax money. The state exhibit at this exhibit focuses more on advertising tourism as well as Arkansas life. Major attractions at the state house include two films, “Life in Arkansas” and “Forward Arkansas,” showcasing the state’s resorts, scenery, education, agriculture, sports and fish, and industrial investment opportunities.

Alana Embry

This story is adapted by Guy Lancaster from the Online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a project of the Central Arkansas Library System. Visit the site at


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