Please Touch Museum

1876 Centennial Exposition - April 9, 2014

There was a huge meeting at the American Treasure Tour offices this morning, as we brainstormed on what direction we want for the blog to take.  (Please note, we use the word "huge" with great liberty.)  And we decided to talk about an event that few people even realize happened, let alone that it was right in the backyard of what is now Oaks, Pennsylvania.  We refer, of course, to the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exposition.

Not only was the Exposition the first world's fair to ever happen in the United States, but it proved a massive success on virtually every level.  Its official name was the long-winded International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine.  It lasted from May 10th to November 10th, 1876, and brought into Philadelphia's Fairmount Park approximately ten million people - the equivalent of 20% of the American public.  Over two hundred buildings were constructed for the event, most designed to serve temporarily as exhibit space for different technological innovations, as well as repositories for art.


Which of the following was NOT true about the Centennial Exposition?

a)  President Ulysses S Grant presided over the opening ceremonies

b)  Doctor Pepper introduced his carbonated beverage at the Expo

c)  Admission was fifty cents at a time when the average daily salary was $1.21

d)  It cost the equivalent of over $140 million to put on the Expo

e)  Many Americans experienced bananas for the first time at the Expo.  It cost a dime

Answer Below

So, as always, we're sure you find the blog full of fascinating information - insightful, thought-provoking, maybe even a little whimsical.  But, you may be asking, today's blog is about an event that happened well over a hundred years ago.  Why are we talking about it here?  Good question!  There are a few reasons.  First and most significantly, the Exposition is the first recorded instance when a pneumatically-driven player piano was seen in the United States.  The sophisticated technology behind the mechanical musical machines was incredibly sophisticated at the time, and around one decade old.  It also sparked a new industry that would include coin-operated pianos, orchestrions, band organs, and the other wonderful pieces that would become the centerpiece of our collection at the American Treasure Tour.  But wait, there's more!

Alexander Graham Bell managed to make his way to the Exposition as a last-minute addition so that he could show off his brand-spanking-new invention, the telephone.  We've already talked about Mr. Bell a number of times on the blog, so we won't get into the details with him, but this was it.  This is where the world was introduced to the phone.  The original reaction to it wasn't all that, though.  If only they knew how dependent people would become on the technology he developed, the organizers of the event may have done the world better if they declined him entrance.

A number of innovative and important inventions were on display at the Exposition, as well as may pieces of art.  In fact, much of the art on display would eventually find its way to what would become the Philadelphia Museum of Art upon its completion in 1925.  Something else that people could visit was a large arm.  If you paid a nickel, you could climb up this arm from the inside, then walk around a torch at the top of it.  The proceeds were intended to help pay for the construction of a pedestal upon which the entire Statue of Liberty would be assembled to overlook New York Harbor.  It is difficult for modern Americans to imagine, but there was serious doubt whether enough money would ever get raised to put Lady Liberty on permanent display.  The sculpture itself was a gift of the French people on condition that Americans cover the bill for the pedestal upon which she sat.  Joseph Pulitzer eventually organized an effective donation drive to collect the money, but it still took ten more years after the Expo before she found her new home.

If anyone living in or visiting Philadelphia chooses to visit Fairmount Park today, they would find one of the largest preserved green spaces within an American city.  There are plenty of things to do - enjoy nature, exercise by running on paved and unpaved trails or playing team sports, go to a concert at the Mann Music Theater, or tour a Colonial-era mansion to name just a few.  The one place to go we recommend to anyone who has already visited the American Treasure Tour that wants to see where the mechanical musical instrument era began in this country is the Please Touch Museum.  It's located in a massive, beautiful structure called Memorial Hall, and it is one of only four buildings that remain in the park from the Centennial Exposition.  It is worth the visit regardless of whether you have kids with you, if only for the large diorama of the Expo located on the bottom floor.  Of course, you don't have to be a kid to enjoy the beautifully restored 1908 carousel!


Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labor. - U.S. Grant

Answer:  b)  Doctor Pepper introduced his carbonated beverage at the Expo.  The Doctor Pepper present at the Expo actually set up a six-bed hospital, in case of emergency.  He would later found the Free Library of Philadelphia