Visitors arriving to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago entered a ceremonial landscape designed to celebrate the unstoppable march of progress in the United States and around the world. Within the glittering neoclassical “White City,” as the fairgrounds were known, attendees could see examples of the best local, national, and international industry and the arts. Life-size replicas of Columbus’s vessels, a reconstructed Viking ship, the first English steam engine, and an enormous Krupp coastal gun impressed those interested in history and industrial productivity. Modern-facing fairgoers marveled at exhibits of inventions like a moving sidewalk and an entirely electric kitchen that included a dishwasher. New foods and beverages like Shredded Wheat, brownies, Juicy Fruit gum, and Pabst beer debuted there and further enhanced the experience. For the price of their tickets, the visiting throngs had front-row seats to a four-hundred-year panoply of history.

To underscore the distance between the Columbian...

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