Architect: Van Brunt & Howe, Kansas City, Missouri
Picturesque World’s Fair, An Elaborate Collection of Colored Views—Published with the Endorsement and Approval of George R. Davis, 1894
THE ELECTRICITY BUILDING.—A brilliant picture, is presented of the palace for the accommodation of Electricity, Science and Industry that at our Centennial had little more than a name—much less a habitation. Its architecture speaks the romance of the Italian Renaissance; its contents, the magic of modern electrical science. The view here allows the eye to sweep the whole of the north and east fronts, a distance of three hundred and fifty and seven hundred feet, respectively. The situation is at once apparent. The waters of the Central Lagoon immediately in front, connect with the Central Basin. Here is recognized the Court of Honor, bounded on the farther side by the facade of Machinery Hall. In the space intervening Machinery and Electricity is caught a glimpse of the life-size figures of MacMonies Fountain, and from the esplanade to the rear rises the gem of all the Exposition palaces—the Administration, its dome emerging into full view over the turreted roof of Electricity. In this conspicuous position, the building accords faithfully in design with the main structures over-looking the Court of Honor. There is the similarity in height, in the repeated and uniform bay windows, and the elegant finish of Corinthian capital. The north end, unlike the south, is extended to form a semi-circular bay at either side. Between them springs the high, arched window, flanked by twin towers. Upon the cross sill, but scarcely seen in the picture, are read the names of famous electricians, suggesting that this great temple, reared to house the offspring of genius, celebrates at the same time the renown of the great inventors.
ENTRANCE TO THE ELECTRICITY BUILDING.—The south front of the Electricity Building was by no means deficient in the part it sustained toward making a wall of splendid architecture about the Grand Plaza, and the special feature of this front was, of course, the main entrance to the structure. Here the architects had made their chief study and secured their greatest results. The facades were all relieved by entrances, but the one to the south had special distinction in its treatment. A great triumphal arch, fifty-eight feet wide and ninety-two feet high, made the frame of a semi-circular niche, or hemicycle, as it is called, extending into the building and covered by a half dome. The half dome was divided into panels on which were various graceful devices on a background of greenish blue. Above, exteriorly, were different figures representing the functions of electricity as applied to the industrial arts, and the general effect produced was not only dignified but, at the same time, thoroughly emblematical. The object which attracted most attention at the entrance was the heroic statue of Benjamin Franklin, the inspiration being Franklin’s discovery that lightning might be brought from the clouds. He stood, his kite beside him, head thrown back, and the whole attitude that of a man triumphing in a great end achieved. The statue comported well with its surroundings.
SOUTH FRONT OF THE ELECTRICITY BUILDING.—Viewed from a point somewhere near the end of Machinery Hall, the south facade of the Electricity Building presented an appearance decidedly attractive through from a grand architectural consideration it might not possibly compete with such structures as the Art Palace or Agriculture Building. The magnificent arch of its entrance, with the dark background afforded by the deep portal, made, in a strong light, such as was evidently secured for the photograph from which the accompanying illustration was taken, a picture, the general effect of which was as striking as it was gratifying. The present illustration is perhaps as good a one as is afforded anywhere of the scene presented in early morning or evening, or in any dull hour throughout the day, between the Administration Building and the Grand Basin. All details of the familiar objects, are presented, unobscured by the throng of people which ordinarily assembled. Compared with ordinary view upon the Exposition grounds, the scene is semi-solitary, but is certainly bright and picturesque. The far distant vista afforded on the right is something in itself very pretty. There is just a suggestion, a faint outline of some of the most notable structures upon the grounds. The distinctive feature of the south entrance to the Electricity Building was the colossal statue of Franklin, who in his discovery of the electrical properties of lightning, happily associated a patriotic name with the progress of electrical investigation.
VISTA, BETWEEN THE MINING AND ELECTRICITY BUILDINGS.—The general idea was that about the only view worth studying north from the Court of Honor was from some point on the bridges across the canals, but this idea was hardly justified by the fact. Going a little westward from the Court of Honor, standing midway between the Electricity and Mining Buildings, looking northward, one had a view perhaps as picturesque, and and certainly as novel as any presented from the different bridges in the southern part of the waterways. The illustration gives a good idea of the spectacle this view afforded. On the right, the architecture of the Electricity Building is shown on all its charming details, while to the left that of the Mines appears with equal distinctness. Straight ahead is the broad roadway leading toward the Wooded Island, peopled, as it always was in the daytime, with moving groups. The island itself shows up distinctly, the pagodas peeping up among the trees, and even the tops of the Japanese Government Buildings showing in the far distance to the north. Beyond, at the left, may be discerned a portion of the great glass dome of the Horticulture Building, and still further away, the tops of all the structures on the west side of the great thoroughfare lying parallel and close beside the western limit of the Exposition grounds, with the dome of the quaint California building as the last notable object in the distance.
INTERIOR OF THE ELECTRICITY BUILDING.-How the world advances was perhaps better illustrated in the Electricity Building than in any other of the great structures on the grounds. At no previous exposition had there ever been a structure set apart for electrical exhibits and at none could there have been anything like the display here made. The marvelous advance in the use of electricity has been accomplished since Philadelphia and Paris did their best. Science and invention have but lately begun to fairly occupy this new world in electrical discovery, bringing together as it did evidence o what those discoveries are to date. and conveying boundless suggestions for the future. The view given in the illustration is down one of the great center aisles or the building and conveys an idea of the general effect produced, though of course no print, even with the artist’s aid, can quite equal the beauty of the night exhibition, with the combined blaze of thousands of brilliant lights. The great pillar seen in the center is that up which lights in various colors seemed to climb continuously, and the nature of other objects is indicated to electricians by their form, though, so new is the science, that the layman may not in every case distinguish. Foreign countries were well represented in this great department, though, of course, the United States, the country of Franklin and Morse, took the lead.
The International Exposition was held in a building which was devoted to electrical exhibits. Van Brunt & Howe of Kansas City designed the building, and was constructed into fruition for a cost of $410,000.
General Electric Company (backed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan) had proposed to power the electric exhibits with direct current originally at the cost of $1.800,000. After this was initially rejected as exorbitant, General Electric re-bid their costs at $554,000. However, Westinghouse, armed with Nikola Tesla’s alternating current system, proposed to illuminate the Columbian Exposition in Chicago for $399,000, and Westinghouse won the bid. It was a historical moment and the beginning of a revolution, as Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse introduced the public to alternating-current electrical power by illuminating the exposition. All the exhibits were from commercial enterprises. Thomas Edison, Brush, Western Electric, and Westinghouse had exhibits. The public observed firsthand the qualities and abilities of alternating current power.
Tesla’s high-frequency high-voltage lighting produced more efficient light with quantitatively less heat. A two-phase induction motor was driven by current from the main generators to power the system. Edison tried to prevent the use of his light bulbs in Tesla’s works. General Electric banned the use of Edison’s lamps in Westinghouse’s plan in retaliation for losing the bid. Westinghouse’s company quickly designed a double-stopper lightbulb (sidestepping Edison’s patents) and was able to light the fair. The Westinghouse lightbulb was invented by Reginald Fessenden, later to be the first person to transmit voice by radio. Fessenden replaced Edison’s delicate platinum lead-in wires with an iron-nickel alloy, thus greatly reducing the cost and increasing the life of the lamp.
Nikola Tesla’s achievements and his abilities as a showman demonstrating his seemingly miraculous inventions made him world-famous. Although he made a great deal of money from his patents, he spent a lot on numerous experiments over the years. In the last few decades of his life, he ended up living in diminished circumstances as a recluse in Room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel, occasionally making unusual statements to the press. Because of his pronouncements and the nature of his work over the years, Tesla gained a reputation in popular culture as the archetypal “mad scientist”. He died impoverished and in debt on 7 January 1943.
In the centre of the building, and forming a part of the exhibits of the General Electric company, is the Edison tower, the so-called tower of light, its shaft encircled by thousands of miniature lamps, arranged in unique innumerable pieces of crystal, and at its base a pavilion, surrounded by a circular peristyle, and containing a number of electroliers and globes exhibited by a Pittsburgh company, these also illumined at night by electricity. Thus, when at the silent touch of an unseen hand, the twoer from base to apex is arrayed in robes of scintillating and many colored lights, we have here the very incarnation of electric science.
The Edison Electric Tower
Moving down the centre of the building- toward the north is one of the spaces of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh. The Westinghouse people were slow to indicate that they would exhibit, as they feared that the great incandescent lamp contract would employ all their time and money.
Their business and standing, financially, was so improved, however, with the securing of that contract that they decided to show a full line of apparatus, especially artistic lighting with station service and railway apparatus. Their presence in the building is emphasized on the south wall, by a mural decoration in incandescent lamps, showing the figure of Columbus with the names, dates 1492-1892, and some beautiful scroll work. Altogether 1988 incandescent lamps of 16 candle-power in frosted and plain white and colors are employed in this artistic piece of work. On the ground floor a special dark building is used to illuminate the recent and absorbingly interesting developments made by Nicola Tesla, of the use of high tension alternating currents. Lafge glass plates backed with tin foil,- on which are outlined, in paper, various figures, are used, and on them the play of the electric spark produces effects that are dazzling and extremely beautiful. A voltage of 30/000 is used up to the condensers, and after it leaves them it is estimated that the current has a power of two million volts. Mr. Tesla also shows a number of other interesting experiments, some of which are so marvelous as to be almost beyond description. The Westinghouse Company also has, as an exhibit, almost the entire display of incandescent lighting on the grounds. To execute this enormous work they have built and installed, within the year, twelve generators of a total capacity each of 15,000 incandescent lights of 16 candlepower each. These are installed in Machinery Hall, adjacent to the steam plant, from which point the current is distributed throughout the grounds.
Tesla Motors is named after Nikola Tesla.
Nikola Tesla’s Display
Columbian Exposition, 1893
In addition to the Edison exhibits of electrical appliances, forming a portion of the General Electric company’s display, is a section in the southwest gallery containing the instruments of the Edison Manufacturing company; and in this locality, more perhaps than elsewhere in the Exposition, is represented the genius of the inventor. When first it was reported that Edison had constructed a machine which would store conversations, speeches, songs, orchestral music, and any other sounds given into its keeping, and reproduce them at any future time there were many who refused to believe it, and not until his phonographs were displayed at the Paris Exposition of 1889, were all the skeptics converted. Since that date the sheet of tin foil then used for the purpose has given place to the hollow cylinder of wax, upon which, as it revolves, the point of the diaphgram cuts the lines of sound. Apart from the amusement derived from this machine, it is rapidly finding favor among professional and business men, taking the place of the amanuensis, while through its records scientists are enabled to make a more thorough investigation as to the nature of wave sounds.
Edison’s Phonograph Exhibit
Electricity Building Interior
Photo by C. D. Arnold
The South Entrance to the Electricity Building
The Inter Ocean
11 Oct 1893
Architectural drawing of the Electricity Building
Architectural drawing of the Electricity Building