Ephemera from the Centennial Exhibition. Philadelphia, 1876.
The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, one of several world’s fairs held over the course of the 19th century, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the country. Previous World’s Fairs had been international celebrations staged to showcase the industrial progress and rich history of the host nation. The Centennial was a benchmark for the evolution of these affairs into spectacles of marketing and consumerism. Even before the exhibition’s opening, businesses and trades began to capitalize on the ability to advertise to the masses, and ultimately transformed the exhibition complex into a pseudo-department store complete with promotional giveaways. Souvenirs, keepsakes, and advertisements designed to be tucked away with one’s admission ticket ranged from the novel, like the paper ruler and the cabinet card set produced on site by job platen presses, to more traditional stationery and circulars.