Constructing a 150th Birthday Celebration


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Spread over a large portion of land in the south portion of Philadelphia along the Delaware River, the Sesquicentennial Exposition featured huge buildings filled with exhibitors, technical innovations, and displays from around the world. These huge halls, along with a new stadium, a military encampment, and a recreation of a Philadelphia street in 1776, served as a way to attract visitors to the six month long celebration of the nation’s independence.   

The enormity of the Exposition and its buildings was demonstrated even before visitors reached the Sesquicentennial Exposition main entrance located at the intersection of Broad Street and Packer Avenue. As individuals approached the Exposition grounds, they passed underneath an 80 foot tall reproduction of the Liberty Bell covered with 26,000 fifteen-watt lamps. Built at a cost of $100,000, the Liberty Bell was said to be visible from large portions of Philadelphia when it was lit at night. [1]

Like the Liberty Bell, buildings that were grand in size would be a dominant feature of the Sesquicentennial. Three large exhibit halls each contained over 320,000 square feet of floor space to be used for displays and demonstrations. [2] One of these halls, the Palace of United States Government, Machinery, and Transportation, covered 11.5 acres of land and included exhibits related to industry and transportation. Another hall, the Palace of Liberal Arts and Manufactures, covered 7.75 acres of land located near the intersection of Broad Street and Packer Avenue and contained over 50,000 square feet of exhibits devoted just to the displays and goods of Great Britain and Ireland. [3] Even the Administration Building, which held offices for Sesquicentennial officials and their staffs and was located near the intersection of Oregon Avenue and Moyamensing Avenue, was 17,600 square feet.


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Despite the immensity of the completed halls, the original plans for the Sesquicentennial grounds included many more buildings that were greater in size and more elaborate in ornamentation. A lack of money and insufficient time to complete construction, however, forced organizers to dramatically alter the original plans to ensure that all building would be completed by the time of the official opening of the Sesquicentennial on July 4, 1926. In protest of these budget and construction cuts, Colonel David C. Collier, Director-General of the Exposition, resigned on October 29, 1925. [4]

Collier’s resignation was just one of many difficulties facing the administrators of the Sesquicentennial Exposition as they attempted to organize such a large scale celebration. By the end of 1925, some members of the Sesquicentennial administrative staff were still so fearful that construction would not be completed by the opening date that they urged the National Advisory Commission to postpone the Sesquicentennial until 1927. After much debate, the Commission decided against postponement and kept the opening day of the Exposition as May 31, 1926.[5] While the major halls were structurally complete by May 31, few of the exhibitors had installed their displays. Many of the smaller buildings were also still being constructed and much of the landscaping had not been finished. Visitors on opening day expressed disappointment at the state of the Sesquicentennial grounds and exhibits, but officials estimated that the exposition was 75 percent complete. [6] Construction and exhibit installation continued at a feverish pace after the opening day, and the majority of the buildings and displays were completed by the time of the official dedication of the Sesquicentennial Exposition on July 4, 1926.

[1] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 67.  

[2] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 64-65. 

[3] Emery, Steuart M. “Sesquicentennial Fair Shows Our Progress.” New York Times, May 23, 1926.

[4] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 44. 

[5] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 45. 

[6] New York Times. “Sesquicentennial Opens as Sun Shines; 100,000 Pass Gates.” June 1, 1926.

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