In 1876, the United States hosted its first World’s Fair in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. World’s Fairs in the United States invited participation from every state, with each state funding its own building and exhibits. Arkansas’ participation in many world’s fairs in the United States provided an opportunity to publicize the state’s achievements and promote colonization.
The octagonal Arkansas building at the Centennial Exposition was constructed entirely from woods native to Arkansas, and a large bronzed iron acanthus fountain donated by the Little Rock and Pine Bluff Women’s Centennial Club adorned the center of the octagonal exhibition hall. Thousands of cotton plants were also on display, and visitors took home cotton bolls as souvenirs, as well as bags of shelled corn. A variety of minerals on display included 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,” complete with the melody “Arkansas Traveler” played on the piano.
Although displayed in the Woman’s Pavilion rather than the State Exhibit, the “Dreaming Iolanthe” butter sculpture, made by Helena resident Caroline Brooks, garnered considerable praise and attention. As people began to question its authenticity, she recreated it as a special demonstration of her technique. Brooks may have inspired future larger-scale butter sculptures that appeared at later national and world’s fairs.
The Columbian Exposition in Chicago opened in 1893. Although business leaders met in 1891 to encourage Arkansas participation in the Columbian Exposition, the state legislature did not grant financing at the State Exhibition than in 1893, and then appropriated a much smaller sum than had been requested. . Jean Loughborough-Douglass designed the state building, which is described as being in the French Rococo or Renaissance style. In the center of the rotunda courtyard, a fountain designed by Sarah Ellsworth of Hot Springs featured crystals from the area, with the fountain basin being formed from Little Rock granite. A 14,000-pound piece of zinc from Marion County, measuring 6 feet long and 7 feet wide, was displayed in the mining building. A demonstration of state forests was a specimen oak tree that stood 125 feet tall and 33 feet in circumference at one foot above the ground, believed to rival California’s “Hooker Oak.” A large relief map of Arkansas made by state geologist John C. Branner depicted the locations of mineral deposits, timber, grasslands and swamplands, acknowledging the diversity of resources within the state .
Inspired by the Arkansas Exposition, the DeMoss musical family composed the song “My Happy Little Home in Arkansas”. The song described Arkansas as “always green” and where “the famous premium apples grow”, and as a place where cotton, cane, and all kinds of grain grow.
The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka World’s Fair) in St. Louis celebrated the Louisiana Purchase. The State Building was designed in the neoclassical style by Frank W. Gibb of Little Rock. Arkansas Mining and Metallurgy exhibit in the Palace of Mining and Metallurgy included aluminum ore, Arkansas bauxite, phosphate rock, coal from the Consolidated Anthracite Coal Co .to Spadra and crates of quartz crystals. After the exhibition ended, AF Wolf purchased the building from Arkansas, and it was rebuilt in Fayetteville at Mount North to serve as a private residence.
“Progress” exhibits such as World’s Fairs did not readily include black accomplishments since emancipation, and blacks fought discrimination and exclusion from fairs from the start. The Arkansas exhibits were no different. As reported in the Arkansas Gazette, the 1893 State Exposition featured an educational exhibit that included work by Arkansas students”https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/ “colored” items/schools The only other mention of blacks directly involved in state fairs was in 1902, when the Arkansas Negro Department formed to represent black citizens of Arkansas at the next St. Louis Fair Although none of the final publications mention Black Department exhibits, more research needs to be done in this area.
Arkansas participated in a few other small-scale fairs—the World Centennial of Industry and Cotton (New Orleans, 1884-1885); the Cotton States and the International Exposition (Atlanta, 1895); the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition (Omaha, 1898); and the Golden Gate International Exposition (San Francisco, 1939) – but these are not as well documented. Arkansas’ participation in another major fair was in 1939 with The World of Tomorrow in New York, but the state’s participation in this fair was funded by individuals and corporations rather than money taxes. The state’s exposure to this exposition focused more on advertising tourism as well as Arkansas life. The state building’s main attraction was two films titled “Life in Arkansas” and “Forward Arkansas”, featuring resorts, scenery, education, agriculture, game and fish, and opportunities state industrial investment.
— Alana Embry
This story is adapted by Guy Lancaster from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Online, a project of the Central Arkansas Library System. Visit the site at encyclopediaofarkansas.net.