The Centennial Exhibition Buildings
West Fairmont Park
Built 1876

Left: Map of Centennial Exhibition . Right: Opening Day Ceremony. From Leslie, Frank. Historical Register of the United States Centennial Exposition. New York: Frank Leslie’s Publishing House, 1876.

At the time of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, held in celebration of the 100 year birthday of the country, the United States consisted of 37 states with a combined population of about 40 million. President Ulysses S. Grant made the opening remarks at the Centennial. About 10 million people, a quarter of the population, visited the exhibit during the 159 days it was open. After the devastation of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, a new nationalism was taking hold, built on technological advances and the industrial revolution.

Four different people take credit for originating the idea of the Centennial in 1866. The most direct influence, however, for the Centennial came from a series of recent expositions, most notably the Paris Expo of 1867. Congress adopted the plan proposed by the US Centennial Commission in 1871, after an 1870 bill was introduced to have the Exposition in Philadelphia. The Centennial was a time when America was focused on Philadelphia.

An architectural competition for the design of the main buildings was held in 1873, led by Hermann Schwarzmann, Fairmont Park’s Engineer. 450 acres of Fairmont Park were set aside for the Exposition, 236 of which were enclosed for the fairgrounds. Out of all of the buildings constructed for the Centennial, only two—Memorial Hall and the Horticultural Hall—were intended to be permanent. Thirty-eight foreign governments took part in the centennial, fifteen of which built their own structures. On December 1, 1876, an auction was held to sell off the buildings and their contents.

Sources Cited:

  • Leslie, Frank, Historical Register of the United States Centennial Exposition. New York: Frank Leslie’s Publishing House, 1876.
    Maass, John, The Glorious Enterprise. Watkins Glen: American Life Foundation, 1973.
  • King, Moses, Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians. New York: Blanchard Press, Isaac H. Blanchard Co., 1901.
  • Nicolai, Richard R. Centennial Philadelphia. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr Press, Inc., 1976.
  • Sloan, Samuel, Description of Design and Drawings for the Proposed Centennial Buildings. Philadelphia: King and Baird,1873.
  • Tatum, George B. Penn’s Great Town. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961.
  • Webster, Richard J. Philadelphia Preserved. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976.
  • White, Theo B., ed. Philadelphia Architecture in the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953.
  • HABS/HAER/HALS database:
  • Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site:

For Additional Information and References, see: