Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Inventing Entertainment
The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905.

[Detail] The little train robbery / Thomas A. Edison, Inc. 1905

Thomas Edison | The Phonograph and Motion Picture Industries | Spanish-American War | The Paris Exposition of 1900 and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 | The Assassination of President William McKinley

The Paris Exposition of 1900 and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901

International expositions or "World's Fairs" were popular pastimes in the United States and Europe from the middle of the nineteenth century to the start of World War I. These venues entertained millions while celebrating culture, commerce, and technology.

A search on the term, Paris Exposition, produces footage from the Paris Exposition of 1900--the third such fair held in the city, which boasted approximately 40 million visitors between April and November. Films from this collection include, Panorama from the Moving Boardwalk, the Panorama of Eiffel Tower (a "temporary building" held over from the 1889 Exposition), the Palace of Electricity, and the Scene in the Swiss Village where children in native costumes performed for the camera.

A year later, the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, drew approximately 8 million people between May and November 1901. The official start of the Pan-American Exposition occurred on May 20, 1901 with Vice President Theodore Roosevelt leading a procession across the fairgrounds in Opening, Pan-American Exposition.

A search on the term, Pan American, yields additional footage of the fair's attractions, including the three-part series, A Trip Around the Pan-American Exposition. This film guides viewers on a tour through the canals bordering the perimeter of the Exposition and features a number of temporary buildings constructed for the fair. (A description of these scenes is available in the summary information on the film's bibliography page.) Meanwhile, films such as Pan-American Exposition by Night feature closer looks at the Temple of Music and the Electric Tower, a massive construction boasting over 35,000 light bulbs.

Other pieces in the collection feature performances from the fair's foreign villages, including Spanish Dancers, acrobats in the Japanese Village, and dogsleds running across the Esquimaux Village. The final day of the Exposition featured a Sham Battle between six Native American tribes and the U. S. infantry in the fair's stadium. The two-part film of this reenactment features cavalry charges, hand-to-hand combat, and a lot of gunplay.

  • What types of architectural styles and technological innovations were represented in the buildings at these expositions?
  • How do you think that fair visitors responded to the entertainment in the foreign villages such as the Spanish Dancers and the Sham Battle?
  • How did the temporary buildings and performances at both fairs emphasize the themes of commerce and culture?
  • What do you think that these fairs suggest about popular entertainment in the United States at the turn of the century?
  • What do you think that events such as the Sham Battle suggest about popular entertainment in the United States at the turn of the century?
  • Are there any contemporary events or locations in the United States that offer a similar entertainment experience to a World's Fair?