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Century of Progress Collection

Identifier: spe-cop

Scope and Contents

The Century of Progress Collection are primarily composed of materials that document the exhibits, programs and visitor experiences of the fairs held during the summers of 1933 and 1934 to commemorate the City of Chicago’s centennial year. The items include articles, artifacts, brochures, exhibition booklets, guides, maps, photographs, postcards, scrapbooks, souvenirs and viewbooks. The perspectives range from the official A Century of Progress publications to commercial products that combine advertisements with guides and maps to the personal experiences of hand-assembled scrapbooks.

The collection also contains a small number of planning materials created and collected by the Chicago World’s Fair Centennial Celebration committees. The documents include public addresses, papers, reports and press releases that were created and delivered as part of the exposition’s publicity and fundraising campaigns. The topics include landscape design, crowd control, traffic patterns and treatises on fair aesthetics and architecture.


  • 1928 - 1934


Conditions Governing Access

Materials open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

A Century of Progress International Exposition was the name given to the World’s Fair, held along the Chicago lakefront from June 1 to November 1, 1933, and May 26 to October 31, 1934. This was the second international exposition held in Chicago during a 40-year period; the first was the World’s Columbian Exposition, which in 1893 played host to over 27 million people in Jackson Park on the city’s South Side. A Century of Progress was equally as popular. The fairgrounds bordered 39th Street on the South and Roosevelt Road on the North and included Northly Island and the lagoons.

The fair was originally conceived to mark Chicago's one-hundred-year anniversary. Its motto was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.” The exhibits highlighted scientific and technological discoveries in industry and modern society, but also included modern advancements in art, literature, and architecture from across the globe. Exhibits from all over the world included new automobile designs, houses of the future, and babies living in incubators as well as foreign villages and historical replicas such as old Fort Dearborn. There was also an abundance of carnival entertainment that included a Sky Ride, a cable-suspended people mover higher than any building in Chicago. The Midway provided games, a roller coaster, shows, and food vendors.

Planning began in 1926 when Mayor William E. Dever appointed a Centennial Committee of 150 members. Rufus C. Dawes was elected President, Chicago World’s Fair Centennial Celebration in 1928. The fair buildings were multi-colored, to create a “Rainbow City” as compared to the “White City” of Chicago's earlier World's Columbian Exposition. The buildings generally followed Moderne architecture in contrast to the neoclassical themes used at the 1893 fair. Kaufman & Fabry Co. were the official photographers.


13.25 Linear Feet (in 18 boxes and 19 oversize folders, includes 24 artifacts, 239 photographs, 129 negatives, 54 postcards)

Language of Materials



Commemorating Chicago’s centennial anniversary, A Century of Progress was the name given to the international exposition held in Burnham Park along Chicago’s lakefront from 1933 to 1934. Technological innovation was the theme of the fair. The collection contains artifacts, brochures, booklets, guides, maps, photographs, postcards, fairgoer scrapbooks, souvenirs and viewbooks from the 1933-1934 World’s Fair as well as publicity and fundraising addresses, press releases and other planning materials.


The records have been arranged into six series:

Series 1: Planning Materials, 1928-1934

Series 2: Publications, 1932-1934

Series 3: Exhibits and Programs, 1931-1934

Series 4: Ephemera and Souvenirs, 1932-1934

Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1933-1934

Series 6: Photographs and Graphic Materials, 1933-1934, undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was transferred from the “Travel and History” holdings of the Chicago Public Library's Social Science and History Division. Other materials continue to be added through donation, purchase and transfer.

Related Materials

Century of Progress Scrapbooks

Chicago Park District Photographs

Mrs. Harlan Ward Cooley Papers

Esther Parada Papers

The Special Collections & Preservation Division also has books on A Century of Progress. Please consult the public access catalog for titles.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was designated as the official repository for A Century of Progress International Exposition. Contact their Special Collections & University Archives for information: (312) 996-2742.

Guide to the Century of Progress Collection
Original author unknown. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2023.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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