The Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition: Portland’s “World’s Fair”

The Sunday Oregonian, August 27, 1905

World’s Fairs are an unforgettable event in a city’s history, bringing scores of tourists, revenue and prestige for years after the fair.  If you’ve ever seen Meet Me in St. Louis, you’ve experienced Hollywood’s take on the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904.  If you’ve ever wondered what the reality of a fair might look like, you can search many historic U.S. newspapers of the era at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ for first and second-hand accounts of U.S. World’s Fairs.

In 1905, Portland, Oregon joined the illustrious list of cities that have sponsored a “World’s Fair” event.  Although it was commonly referred to as a World’s Fair, it was not in fact recognized as one by the Bureau of International Expositions.  Instead, it was an exposition dedicated to the centennial year of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. For four and a half months, Portland was host to 1.5 million visitors at the fairgrounds constructed for that purpose along the Willamette River.  You can read about the goals and plans for the fair in this article from the New Year’s Day edition of The Morning Oregonian, “The Great Lewis and Clark Exposition: 1805-1905.”

If you’re curious to know more about Portland’s “World Fair,” you can find a wealth of information in the pages of historic Oregon newspapers at the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program‘s website.  Nearly every aspect of the Exposition was covered by newspapers of the time, including economic, cultural and political perspectives.  I’ve listed a few interesting articles to pique your interest, but the amount of information on this incredible event is astounding, so get in there and do some searching! (For a brief overview of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, you can also visit the Oregon Encyclopedia’s entry on the fair.)

You can also find more images of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in the shared OSU/UO Digital Collections website, like this photo of the States Building, or this colorful postcard of the Agricultural Building.

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Filed under Chronicling America, Highlights

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