For many Americans, traveling to see a world's fair was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime event. An estimated 27 million visitors attended the 1893 Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, a marketing opportunity that publishers seized by selling official souvenir postcards. The large number of postcards from subsequent fairs in Buffalo (1901), St. Louis (1904), San Francisco (1915) and San Diego (1916), as well as regional expositions attest to the enduring connection between attending a fair and buying postcards.
As showcases for emerging technology and innovation, world's fairs had a profound influence on American tastes. The fairs helped popularize architectural styles (Beaux-Arts) and introduced visitors to new foods (ice cream cones). Postcards were a convenient way for visitors to document their experience at world expositions. Many of them emphasized the monumental spectacle that greeted fair goers, while other cards featured more exotic tableaus or captured a carnival atmosphere that drew as much attention as the official pavilions. In Chicago picture postcards were still a novelty, but by 1904 in St. Louis, exposition cards had mass appeal and fed an international demand for collecting. Postcards had become a routine expectation for fair visitors, and they were not disappointed by the choice of subjects and styles when the time came to buy a pictorial souvenir.
"I cannot begin to describe the beauties of the Fair,
it is grand, each building is a Fair of itself."
Every year, Special Collections and University Archives staff work together to create relevant and interesting exhibits on topics that are of interest to the University, the community, and to scholars.
If a picture tells a thousand words, then the millions of postcards sent over the past century suggest that postcards are a significant source for understanding how Americans spent their leisure time. This online exhibit, based on an earlier physical exhibit, features early postcards of national parks and other natural wonders, scenic resorts, amusement parks, historic sites, world's fairs and American cities.
The exhibit team includes Joanne Archer, Peter Curtis, Melissa Lindberg, Doug McElrath, and Blaise Odle.
Hornbake Library is located on University of Maryland’s College Park campus. This library is home to the Exhibit Gallery, Special Collections & University Archives and Library Media Services.
For general information about the library and our collections, contact us
For questions about the exhibit and related events, please email Doug McElrath or call 301-405-9210.