Monday, December 7, 2015

Wisconsin Goes to the Fair

Exposition Universelle de 1889, held in Paris was a great success and showed the world the greatness of France. Many countries exhibited in Paris, promoting there goods and manufacturing prowess, the United States mounted a halfhearted effort, coming off as unsophisticated hicks unready to be a world power. It was therefore decided that the United States would host a World's Fair in 1893, honoring the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus but what city would host this gala face saving event? New York, Washington DC, Chicago and St. Louis all vied for the privilege of being the venue for the big show and the matter was to be resolved by the US House of Representatives. Chicago's city counsel formed a committee of powerful citizens to insure the city would prevail and it did. Architects Daniel Burnham and John W. Root were put in charge of bringing the whole thing together using Root's creative genius and Burnham's organizational skills. Burnham assembled a fraternity of the county's best architects such as, George Post, Henry Van Brunt, Charles McKim and enlisted Frederick Law Olmsted to transform the marshy Jackson Park into a suitable fair grounds. All the states and territories were to have a presence at the fair in the form of a pavilion.

By July of 1891 the state of Wisconsin had appointed a board of managers to oversee all matter concerning the state's presents at the fair. The board specified that the building was to be constructed entirely of materials from Wisconsin, have no less 10,000 square feet of floor space at a coast exceed $30,000 and plans were to be submitted by September 15,1891. The winning architect would receive a prize of $300 and there was to be a second prize of $200. There were four competing plans from; Messrs. Ferry and Clas, Mr. Holbrook, Mr. Douglas all of Milwaukee and William Waters of Oshkosh. The board announced their decision on October 21, 1891, naming Mr. Waters as the winner and James Douglas as taking second prize. On February 21, 1892 a notice for bids for contractors was placed in the Oshkosh Times with announcement coming in early April that Houle Bros. of Oshkosh would build the structure. And so it was that by the opening of the fair, Wisconsin had a fine building and exhibition hall. Only after the fair was open a few months did the bickering start. The Milwaukee Journal praised the hall, claiming it to have won first prize and took the Milwaukee Sentinel to task for making no mention of it. The Sentinel replied that several state buildings received awards but all where of the same degree with no first place being recognized. As final accounts were taken several sources noted that the Wisconsin State Building was singled
out as architecturally unique, well built and commodious for the visitors.  

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