The Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building

1987 E Hayes Dr Chicago

The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition/The Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building
Written By HistoryCop

HistoryCop was founded by Ray Johnson, a life-long Chicago area resident and history buff who is a former criminal investigator.

The Manufacturer's and Liberal Arts Building

The Manufacturer's and Liberal Arts Building was designed by New York architect George P. Post. The building was the largest of the great buildings at 1,687 feet long and 787 feet wide.  The building's floor space was the equivalent of 23 football fields and contained over 44 acres of exhibit space.  It was estimated in local papers that a person could spend 10 hours per day every day for a month and still not see everything in the building.  It contained manufactured products from all over the world and was four times the size of the Roman Colosseum. One could take the tallest skyscraper in Chicago, the Willis Tower, turn it on its side and it would be contained in the footprint of the building!

Down the middle of the building was a walkway aptly named Columbia Avenue given that it was the size of a roadway.   Five individuals died during the construction of the building which used 17,000,000 feet of lumber, 12,000,000 pounds of steel and 2,000,000 pounds of iron.It was really both an exhibition building and a flea market.  Almost everything that was displayed could be purchased although the contract with exhibitors strictly stated that certain items had to remain as exhibits during the fair and could only be sold at the end so that fairgoers would always have something to amaze them.

In and Around The Building

Visitors to the building could take elevators to the roof of the building for a very scenic bird's eye view of the exposition grounds.  The roof could accommodate roughly 1,500 people at one time.  This didn't seem like a bad idea until the deadly fire at the Cold Storage Building on July 10, 1893.  After that, fair management realized that there were not nearly enough elevators to get that many people off the roof in a hurry in the event of an emergency.  After the fire, which killed more Chicago firefighters than any other fire in the 19th century, access to the roofs of the great buildings was limited or cut off completely.  

Looking south from the north side of the building you would see an encampment of U.S. soldiers since a very short distance separated the Manufacturer's and Liberal Arts Building from the U.S. Government Building.  There was also a military hospital as well as a station for Columbian Guards and Columbian Firefighters.

From the rooftop on the north side of the building, you can see the U.S. Government building first, then the Fisheries Building directly north of that.  North of the Fisheries Building you can see the Palace of Fine Arts (now Museum of Science and Industry) and left in the distance you can see the double-domed Illinois Building.

The Viking

Moored on the north side of the building in Lake Michigan was "Viking".  "Viking" was a replica of an ancient Viking ship that was sailed by Captain Magnus Andersen from Norway to Chicago without leaving the water.  The crew of 12 not counting the captain arrived at the Columbian Exposition on July 9, 1893 followed by a huge number of escort ships.  They were invited to a reception in their honor which included Frederick Douglass and Mayor Carter Harrison who actually sailed as its honorary captain from Evanston to the Expo.  He told the crew not to worry since he was descended from the great Norsemen himself.  One of the highlights of their trip that they were anxious to share with the people of Chicago was their arrest and short incarceration in Brooklyn under trumped of charges.  The Italians of Brooklyn were none too happy with the Norwegians making the point that they were actually the first Europeans on North American soil and the plan was to hold them in Brooklyn until after the Columbian Expo was over.  The mayor of New York found out about the plot and pressured Brooklyn to release the Norwegian sailors.

Visit Viking in Geneva, IL

The Viking is alive and being restored and preserved by Friends of The Viking Ship.  The ship is displayed at Good Templar Park in West Suburban Geneva, Illinois.  You can find out information about tours and the non-profit itself by visiting their website

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The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

The Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building

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