This NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop invites participants to engage with Buffalo’s landmarks and rich resources to learn about the Pan-American Exposition and how this World’s Fair was a reflection of turn of the 20th century America. Broader historical narratives about the politics, economics, and society of this era will be woven throughout the workshop connecting the rich cultural heritage of Western New York to the disciplinary content of participants’ classrooms.
World’s Fairs and Expositions are large scale exhibitions, typically held for several months at a time, to exhibit technological inventions and educational advancements for the purpose of promoting trade, cultural exchange, and heightening the host country’s reputation. The first well-known Exposition, Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London from May-October, 1851 set the tone for decades of World’s Fairs. Promoted as “encyclopedias of civilization,” Expositions have exposed millions of visitors to exciting new entertainments like the Ferris Wheel and IMAX; consumer products including Cream of Wheat and Dr. Pepper; ground breaking technologies such as the diesel engine and touchscreens; engineering marvels like the Eiffel Tower; and examples of world cultures and idealistic visions.
The first U.S. held Expositions recognized by the International Expositions Bureau began with New York City’s Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (1853), followed by Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exposition (1876) and Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition (1893).
Beginning in 1895, Buffalo began campaigning as the proposed site for a World’s Fair claiming 40 million people lived within a 12-hour train ride of the city, had one of the most extensive electric trolley systems in the country, and the most paved streets in the world. Buffalo was a major industrial leader in the country; it was the 8th largest city, 4th busiest harbor, and home to 60 millionaires, the most per capita of any city. Coupled with the mighty Niagara Falls and the burgeoning power industry, the American Exhibitors Association was convinced and in 1901, Buffalo, New York became the chosen location for the Pan-American Exposition. Illuminated by 80,000 electric lights, Buffalo was literally transformed into a City of Light. Symbolically, Buffalo’s light was a beacon welcoming a new century.
The Pan-American Exposition, or the “Pan” as it was fondly referred to by fairgoers, welcomed eight million visitors to Buffalo in just seven short months (May 1st through November 2nd). This temporary City of Light came at a cost of $7 million ($196 million in 2014 dollars). At a time when a loaf of bread was 5 cents and a gallon of milk 28 cents, visitors spent an average of 25 cents for general admission to the fairgrounds. At the Pan, visitors could choose from 296 concessions along the Midway; visit educational, state, and foreign buildings; and watch baseball games, sham battles, and military drills in the stadium.
As noted Fair scholar Robert Rydell suggests, Fairs “have been mirrors that reflect as well as laboratories that shape the societies that host them.” This was evident at the Pan-American Exposition. Like the rest of the country, Buffalo reveled in a time of prosperity and growth during the Gilded Age (1870 –1900). But as the Gilded Age infers, the gilding did not always disguise the adverse effects of rapid industrialization. Serious environmental, racial, cultural, and labor tensions were percolating throughout society. This era of inventions and innovations (X-ray machine, infant incubator), along with the negative repercussions of these advancements (labor hostilities, racial/ethnic discrimination), were shared explicitly and implicitly with the wider audience through World’s Fairs like the Pan-American Exposition.
In the history of World’s Fairs, the Pan was unique. It did not commemorate a particular historic event like Philadelphia’s 1876 World’s Fair centennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Instead, the concept behind the Pan was to promote progress, peace and commerce in the western hemisphere to build on the recent victory in the Spanish-American War (1898) and U.S. commercial, political, and military expansion policies in Latin America. Historian Harold F. Peterson noted the Pan was, “the first to recognize the concept of Pan-Americanism.” That did not, however, translate at the Pan since only a handful of Latin American countries were represented. The most memorable aspect of the Pan-American Exposition may be the tragic assassination of President William McKinley.
Each World’s Fair has led to the creation of a major museum or historic landmark. The Palace of Fine Arts created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago became the first home of The Field Museum. The Unisphere, centerpiece of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, still welcomes visitors to Flushing Meadows in Queens and the Space Needle stands as a record of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle. What remains of the City of Light?
Buffalo History Museum: The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, parent organization of the Buffalo History Museum, resides in the only building constructed for the Exposition yet intended to last more than six months. The Museum stands 113 years later to tell the stories of the Pan. Built as the Exposition’s New York State Building, the current Buffalo History Museum is home to an extensive collection of Pan memorabilia, ephemera, exhibits and built environment. Teachers will be immersed in the Pan from the first day of the workshop, working with a host of scholars to set the stage for a week of discovery and engagement.
The Hotel Lafayette: Built by the first recognized female professional architect in the United States, Louise Bethune (1856-1913), the Hotel Lafayette stands as the most important extant example of her work. The Hotel’s foundation was laid in 1900 in preparation for the Pan, but it remained unfinished. Today, the Hotel has been completely renovated and stands as a significant Landmark on Buffalo’s skyline. Its most notable claim to fame is the involvement of Louise Bethune. That said, it is also a lens through which workshop participants can learn about turn of the century architecture and the changing role of women in the workplace.
Niagara Falls State Park: Designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and established in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park is America’s Oldest State Park. Pan visitors were encouraged to visit “the grandeur of these majestic cataracts, whose careless roar has been heard through countless ages.” Workshop participants will experience the mighty Niagara Falls as fairgoers did in 1901 and view the hydroelectric power plants that electrified the City of Light.
Buffalo Museum of Science: The Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, parent organization to the Buffalo Museum of Science was founded in 1861. The Society displayed its growing collections in the Ethnology Building of the Pan. At the Fair’s end, “Darkest Africa” exhibit artifacts were donated and remain a major component of the Museum’s current anthropology collection. Participants will tour the Museum’s storerooms and learn from the artifacts and supplemental ephemera which paint a very detailed picture about the role of ethnographic exhibits at Fairs and target themes of racial stereotypes and notions of “the other.”
Darwin D. Martin House: Buffalo is home to the National Historic Landmark Darwin D. Martin House, designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is considered by scholars to be one of his finest examples from the Prairie period (1900-1917). While the residential complex appears after the close of the Exposition, the personalities involved in this creation featured prominently in Buffalo’s turn of the century history. Young Darwin D. Martin came to Buffalo and began working for John D. Larkin at the Larkin Soap Company, the largest company of its kind in 1901 and known for pioneering mail order merchandising and product premiums. Martin’s drive propelled him from soap salesman to the highest paid company executive in the country. He amassed a significant fortune and developed a life-long friendship with architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Both Larkin and Martin’s stories will be used to illustrate the roles of businessmen, philanthropists and investors in the development and execution of the Pan.
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site: The Ansley Wilcox House at 641 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo is now the National Park Service Landmark, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Here, after the assassination of President William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office to become the 26th President of the United States on September 14, 1901. No discussion of the Pan would be complete without mentioning the events leading up to and the impact of McKinley’s assassination. Participants will encounter the “history happened here” model and stand on the exact spot where Theodore Roosevelt took office. The American Presidency, the assassin, and the resulting trial will be explored to better understand larger issues and tensions of turn of 20th century America.
Forest Lawn Cemetery: Founded in 1849, Forest Lawn covers over 269 acres and has over 150,000 permanent residents and home to a host of personalities introduced over the course of the weeklong workshop. While the City of Light was a temporary endeavor, Forest Lawn is the permanent reminder of the many people that came together to make the Pan what it was. The tour will focus on the graves of Pan personalities while giving teachers the tools to teach with cemeteries, monuments, and memorials.
Buffalo Seminary: Founded as The Buffalo Female Academy in 1851, Buffalo Seminary has long been unique in the history of education both in Buffalo and Western New York. Imbued with the tradition of the New England academy, the school was founded by parents who wanted their daughters to have as rigorous an education as their sons were receiving in boys' schools. Buffalo Seminary was the first independent school in Buffalo and the earliest of its kind in Western New York. In 1889, under the leadership of Lucy Hartt, the trustees voted to change the school's name to Buffalo Seminary, reinforcing their commitment to providing a school of higher education for girls. Under the direction of L. Gertrude Angell, the expanding school moved to its present location on Bidwell Parkway in 1909 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The workshop ends at Buffalo Seminary, the inspiration for the girls' school featured in the award-winning historical novel, City of Light, and alma mater of the author, Lauren Belfer. After Ms. Belfer leads a book club talk about her work, teachers will learn how the events surrounding the Pan can be viewed as a metaphor for the rise and decline of Buffalo and how the once City of Light became a City on the Edge. The week will conclude with a final discussion around the questions, “Was the City of Light a beacon of progress?” and “What is the City of Light’s legacy today, if at all?”
Each day will be filled with at least three content seminars, one pedagogical strategy session, a tour related to the landmark site(s), and lesson planning time. Participants will be introduced to the many players of the Pan, such as, the wealthy investors and businessmen like John J. Albright, John D. Larkin, and Darwin D. Martin who financed and organized the Exposition. Participants will become acquainted with the visual culture through the work of artists Evelyn Rumsey and Raphael Beck, photographer C. D. Arnold, and architects, Louise Bethune, E. B. Green, William Wicks, and George Cary. Participants will learn about the thrill seekers who displayed their talents, such as, Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel; various ethnic, community, state, and national groups like African-Americans and Native Americans who showcased their identities; the many inventors who exhibited the newest technologies, like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla; and even some people, famous and infamous, who promoted their political agendas, like Leon Czolgolz, President McKinley’s assassin.
In this workshop, participants will learn about turn of the 20th century America through the Pan and how to teach utilizing a variety of resources such as museum exhibits, notable trade books, visual culture, historic artifacts, landmarks, archival materials, and the built environment resulting in a complex toolbox that can be used by the participants in their respective classrooms. To do so, participants will be exposed to a host of primary sources such as visitor scrapbooks and ephemera; poems, lyrics, and music; artwork and architecture; advertisements and public relations materials; artifacts; official and unofficial photographs; eye-witness accounts; newspaper articles; Pan catalogues and guides; and cemetery markers, monuments, and memorials. Participants will also become acquainted with scholarship from various humanities sources, such as novels and histories. In all of the workshops, scholars will engage the participants in seminar discussions about the nature of history and historical evidence in a landmark-based location. There will be a heavy content focus with the goal to deliver the content through investigative exercises that model historical inquiry for participants to later replicate with their students. To foster the Principles of Civility and promote open and respectful dialogue, Scholars will utilize different instructional approaches like lecture/discussion, small group and whole group, pair-share, and role-play. The participants’ final project is to complete a lesson plan utilizing the information they gleaned from the workshop that can be used in their own classrooms. The Project Director will serve as the key pedagogical point person and a Teacher Facilitator will be available each evening to assist participants with their lesson plans.
At the end of the workshop, participants will be awarded certificates of completion that document number of contact hours, the workshop content, and professional development activities.
SUNY Buffalo State will award 3 graduate credit hours for HIS 623: World’s Fairs & 1901 Pan-American Exposition for in-state tuition of $1,318, out-of-state tuition of $2,608, or alternatively, 4 Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) for $200. Official transcripts can be obtained through the Registrars’ office for a small fee of $5.
For registration information for graduate credit or CEU's, contact Project Director, Jill M. Gradwell, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Top
Some content on this page is saved in PDF format. To view these files, download Adobe Acrobat Reader free.