The Chicago World’s Fair was huge. For those not quite into history the way I am (hey, it’s my job), it can be difficult to comprehend the sheer size and impact the fair had on the world. It was 427 acres of innovation: new products, new buildings, and new ideas everywhere you turned.
The original Chicago World’s Fair occurred in 1893. However, in 1933, the city decided to celebrate its centennial in a big way. This second fair was dubbed A Century of Progress International Exposition, a name chosen to show how scientific discoveries changed industry and everyday life.
The fair offered a chance for businesses like Kohler Co. to showcase their products to millions of tourists. The exposition, held in the middle of the Great Depression, was a symbol of hope for a more prosperous future.
Kohler Co. was feeling the effects of the Great Depression, but forged ahead anyway, with plans to construct a building that would showcase their latest innovations. Plumbing, heating and power system products were on display in front of floor-to-ceiling images depicting Kohler factory life and the Village of Kohler.
The building itself was designed by world-renowned architect Ely Jacques Kahn, the same architect who used Kohler plumbing fixtures in a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit. Kahn’s building had a 132’ long gallery, that displayed Kohler products along with model bathrooms. The highlight was a children’s bathroom, a new and original idea at that time.
When the fair reopened in 1934, Kohler increased the size of the building, adding two large wings to the east and west sides and moving the entrance to a more prominent location on the main thoroughfare. The new entrance walls featured murals by six artists that depicted scenes from places around the world where Kohler obtained its raw materials.
The murals impressed many visitors and caught the eye of the media. The building itself, which embodied Kohler’s view on the importance of art in industry, earned recognition in Architectural Forum magazine.
The fair finally closed on October 31, 1934, but not until after nearly 40 million people visited the sites. In a time of economic hardship, fair-goers walked away with a sense of hope and the promise of future prosperity.