Questions from our World’s Fair Tour on Today’s Anniversary

In the 18 months since it launched, we’ve had tons of guests discover a huge piece of Chicago’s history on our “1893 World’s Fair Tour with Bars.” As anyone who has joined us knows, our guides always encourage questions from guests. Accordingly, we’ve been doing some fun research on the questions from our World’s Fair Tour guests.  This seemed like an auspicious day to answer those questions, since the Columbian Exposition closed exactly 124 years ago today on October 30, 1893.

World's Fair Tour guest questions
Tourists gaze upon the White City’s Court of Honor during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Image via Wikimedia.

What’s the connection between Studebaker carriages and the car company?

To put it simply, they’re the same company!

This question pops up when we visit the Fine Arts Building. This fabulous time capsule of a building was constructed by the Studebaker Carriage Company in 1885. The Studebakers, based in South Bend, began as horse-drawn carriage manufacturers. They switched to car production in the first decades of the 20th century. The Fine Arts Building was their sales and service facility in Chicago. Incredibly, they even did some carriage manufacturing on the top floors. They sold the building for redevelopment as the Fine Arts Building in 1898. Unable to compete with Detroit’s Big Three,  Studebaker went out of business in the mid-60’s.

1893 Worlds Fair Tour Fine Arts Building 10th floor mural
The Fine Arts Building, which we visit during the tour, was built for the Studebakers and predates the fair itself. Photo by Pawel Skrabacz

When did C.D. Peacock leave the store with the peacock doors at the Palmer House?

This one took some digging!

We walk past the famous peacock doors at the Palmer House in the latter part of the World’s Fair Tour. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t originally made the connection that the design of the famous peacock doors came from the name of the shop. But, sure enough, that’s the case. C.D. Peacock, which was originally named the House of Peacock, is one of Chicago’s oldest retailers. They date all the way back to 1837, which is the year Chicago was incorporated.

They occupied that sweet corner spot at State and Monroe for decades, but moved out when the chain went bankrupt in 1992. The company wasn’t liquidated, but never moved back to State Street. One presumes that the cost was too high. C.D. Peacock still has three locations, and they’re all out in the suburbs.

Women's building Sophia Hayden 1893 World's Fair tour questions
The interior of Sophia Hayden’s Women’s Building at the 1893 World’s Fair. Image via Wikimedia

What was the name of the female architect that designed the Women’s Building?

The Women’s Building often strikes our guest’s interest. The fairgrounds were dotted with buildings dedicated to American states and foreign countries, amongst the grand structures dedicated to industry and innovation. The Women’s Building was proposed as a forum to show the artistic and social achievements of American women. The commission would be given to the best entry from a trained female architect.

Sophia Hayden was the winner at only 21 years old (way to make me feel like a failure at 30, Sophia). Here’s some fun background on the chaos of constructing the building: “During construction, Hayden’s design principles were compromised by incessant changes demanded by the construction committee, spearheaded by socialite Bertha Palmer, who eventually fired Hayden from the project. Hayden appeared at the Inaugural Celebration and had published accounts of support by her fellow architects.”

Central Camera’s sign says they’ve been open since 1899….what connection did photography have at the fair? How were photos even taken?

central camera chicago world's fair tour questions
Central Camera, which we pass on the tour, has been an institution since the time of the Fair. Image via Wikimedia

Souvenir photos for visitors were a huge cash cow for the organizers of the Columbian Exposition. They would have been on postcards or some kind of mass-produced paper. A lot of the familiar photos we know today began as souvenir images. The fair’s official photographer was William Henry Jackson. Famed for his photos of the American West, “(h)e treated the broad expanses of the lagoon, boulevards, and the midway much the same way he photographed the open environs of the American west. Most of the images were taken before the crowds arrived, and therefore, do not reflect the popularity of the exposition, which attracted over twenty-seven million visitors.” 

Visitors would have been able to take their own photos as well. Kodak had revolutionized photography with its commercial, mobile camera in 1888. This device was still expensive, of course. A roll of film cost twice as much as a ticket to the fair itself! But much like we spend on smart phones today, it’s something many middle class families would’ve had.

What influence did the Union League Club have on the fair?

To start with, maybe the single most influential figure in the World Fair’s management was a member. Daniel Burnham, the head of construction for the Exposition, belonged to the Union League Club, among others.

The club claims to have been instrumental in getting the fair awarded to Chicago, but it’s hard to say how. The members were all extremely wealthy and prominent businessmen. So it’s very likely that they were amongst the lobbyists, cheerleaders, and fundraisers who convinced Congress to award the fair to Chicago.

How much did tickets cost?

A Tribune article says “Chicago Day” tickets cost 50 cents. In today’s money, that’s $12. The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis says the average wage in 1891 was 12 cents an hour. So this would have been a big expense for a lot of households!

That’s all for now, though we have some other questions we’re researching for a future post about with questions from our 1893 World’s Fair tour guests.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

be a



Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

Book a chicago event

Let’s Connect!