The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition


The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, which officially opened to the public on May 10, 1876, attracted more than 10 million people to the city according to Susan Coolidge's A Short History of the City of Philadelphia, From Its Foundation to the Present Time. Colonies of hotels, boarding-houses, and shops appeared almost overnight near the exposition grounds to meet the needs of the tourists, and when the exposition was over, they disappeared almost as swiftly as they had come. The book lists several specialty boarding houses that appeared during the exposition including the Boarding House for Young Women located at 1433 Lombard Street, which offered a comfortable Christian home for female members of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The Boarding House of Women's Christian Association at 1605 Filbert Street offered similar accommodations. The Bedford Street Mission at 6619 Alaska Street, in northwestern Philadelphia, provided free lodgings and baths for the poor, while the Boarding Home at 915 Clinton Street, lodged only working girls.

An 1877 article in the Pennsylvania Magazine, published by the Historic Society of Pennsylvania, discussed the founding of the Centennial Boarding House Agency for the exposition and how the agency effected the operation of exposition for the better. Commissioners on the exposition had the immense task of figuring out how to accommodate all these visitors as smoothly as possible. However, most of the first class hotels in the center of Philadelphia planned to significantly increase their rates and charge $5 a day for a room. It was obvious to the Commissioners that something had to be done about the working class visitor who would come with his family and could not afford to pay very much. The city boarding houses would have to be used as they had in London in 1851 for the Crystal Palace exposition but this would still not provide sufficient accommodation for the great crowds of low to moderate income that were anticipated in Philadelphia. "In order to solve the many lodging problems that still existed, the Centennial Boarding House Agency was formed to care for the large number of out-of-town visitors who wanted cheap rooms. It was decided to place coupon tickets for boarding accommodations on sale in various parts of the country. The purchaser would be met either on the tram or when he arrived in Philadelphia by a messenger for the agency who would give him a card with the address of his lodging and directions on how to find it. He would present the owner of the boarding house with his coupon and she, in turn, would be reimbursed for it by the Centennial Boarding House Agency." This method protected against the determent of visitors if proprietors decided to raise their prices. This method ended up being very successful and allowed roughly 20,000 - 30,000 people to find rooms and boarding houses more easily.

Publishers made efforts to produce guides to inform Centennial visitors of the city's various options in accommodations and entertainment. One such publication was  Our City Guide: Postal, Hotel Amusement, Real Estate, Boarding House, Business and Buyers Directory, which was widely distributed in 1875 and included A List of Boarding Houses at Reasonable Rates, which was organized by street then address number. Another similar document was published a year later in 1876 and entitled Centennial Visitor's Hotel and Boarding House Guide: A Compendium of Valuable Information. The guide also contained a Boarding House Directory, cataloging all boarding houses in the city, their address, and their managers. Both guides were probably very valuable resources at the time of their publication and have stood the test of time to become important historical documents today. 



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Website by Ashley C. Aiken

University of Pennsylvania

HSPV 600: Documentation

Professor Jeffrey A. Cohen

Fall 2005