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C.D. Arnold Photographic Collection

Identifier: spe-wce-cda

Scope and Contents

The World’s Columbian Exposition, C.D. Arnold Photographic Collection consists of 12 volumes with more than 1,000 platinum prints. There are photographs of the main Exposition buildings, the state and international buildings and structures on the Midway Plaisance and the Wooded Island, as well as fountains, statuary and other features on the fairgrounds. While the majority of the plates present a formal picture of the grandeur of the Exposition, a number of the photographs provide a record of Jackson Park being dredged, the buildings under construction and the grounds being designed.


  • Creation: 1891 - 1893


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions. However, to prevent deterioration of oversized originals, please refer to the copy prints of Volumes I, II and III, which are available in the Reading Room.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection

Biographical / Historical

In the late 1880s Chicago was among the cities vying for the privilege of hosting a World’s Fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. By 1890 Chicago had bested the other contenders and been chosen as the host city.

Although the World’s Columbian Exposition did not open until May 1, 1893 and ran for only six months, it drew more than 27 million people from around the world. The Fair was widely celebrated, but its physical manifestation was transitory. Exhibits were returned to lenders or dispersed. Most fair buildings were temporary structures made with iron, steel and timber covered with a degradable material called “staff,” a combination of plaster, cement and jute fibers. The only remaining building on the fairgrounds is the Palace of Fine Arts, now the Museum of Science and Industry.

A visual record of the Fair survives in photographs, most notably in those by architectural photographer Charles Dudley Arnold (1844-1927). The Fair’s directors commissioned Arnold to be the Exposition’s official photographer. They wanted celebratory views of the Fair, and Arnold delivered magnificent plates. He documented the Exposition from its construction, beginning in 1891, to its closing and aftermath in the winter of 1893-1894. Arnold’s photographs trace the metamorphosis of Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side from a mossy, damp area to the thriving and beautiful “Dream City,” complete with massive, neoclassical exposition buildings, waterways reminiscent of Venice, sculptured gardens and amusement park attractions.


23.75 Linear Feet (in 20 boxes, includes 12 volumes, 1091 plates (some plates contain multiple images))

Language of Materials



This visual record of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, photographed by official fair photographer C.D. Arnold, documents construction of the fair and interiors and exteriors of the major buildings. Arnold also made general views of the Exposition.


Each of the 12 volumes has a calligraphed table of contents note with the Library’s accession stamp March 1, 1896. In the note, the photographs are numbered and briefly described. This arrangement has been preserved. The summary by volume (below) was created by the processing archivist. It gives an overview of each volume generally. For a complete list of every plate, please see the Collection Inventory.

  • Volume I (Box 1): Construction Stages
  • Volume II (Box 2): Main Exposition Buildings, General Views
  • Volume III (Box 3-4): Main Exposition Buildings, State and Foreign Buildings, General Views
  • Volume IV (Box 5-6): Dedication and Opening Day Ceremonies, General Views
  • Volume V (Box 7-8): State Buildings, Horticultural Building, Miscellaneous Exhibits on Fairgrounds, Midway Plaisance
  • Volume VI (Box 9): Manufactures & Liberal Arts Building, Electricity Building, Mines & Mining Building, Transportation Building
  • Volume VII (Box 10-11): State Buildings – Interiors, Woman’s Building – Interiors, Horticultural Building – Interiors, Fish & Fisheries Building – Interiors, Agricultural Building – Interiors, Machinery Hall – Interiors, Forestry Building – Interiors, Hide & Leather Building – Interiors, Anthropology & Ethnology Building – Interiors
  • Volume VIII (Box 12-13): Art Palace, Miscellaneous Statuary
  • Volume IX (Box 14-15): Foreign Buildings, General Views, Miscellaneous Statuary
  • Volume X (Box 16-17): Midway Plaisance
  • Volume XI (Box 18-19): Construction Stages, Maps and Charts
  • Volume XII (Box 20): Construction Stages

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Library purchased the photographs in 1896.

Related Materials

The Chicago Public Library also holds several smaller photograph collections of the World’s Columbian Exposition. They include:

  • Ellsworth-Arnold Photograph Album Collection
  • World’s Columbian Exposition Snapshots Collection
  • World’s Columbian Exposition Glass Plate Lantern Slides
  • World’s Columbian Exposition Miscellaneous Photographs
  • World’s Columbian Exposition Catholic Education Exhibit

Guide to the C.D. Arnold Photographic Collection
Original author unknown. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Sarah Zimmerman 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Edited by Sarah Zimmerman to include box numbers in preparation for upload into ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875