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Centennial Exhibition photographs and ephemera

Creation: circa 1872-1877
Accession: 2003-255
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.


The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 celebrated the one hundreth anniversary of American Independence. Held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, it was the first major U.S. world's fair. This collection contains Centennial Exhibition photographs, albums, scrapbooks, and ephemera


  • Creation: circa 1872-1877



9 Linear Feet

General Physical Description note

19 photographic prints : albumen ; 27.3 X 30.7 cm. or smaller.; 3 prints (posters) ; 61.3 X 76.5 cm. or smaller. 2 albums (351 photographic prints) : b&w ; 46.4 x 58.2 cm. 3 albums (ca. 1200 items) ; 40 x 59.6 cm. 10 p. of music : ill. ; 35 cm. 14 prints (advertising cards) ; 14 x 16 cm. or smaller. 1 item : box. 36 items : business cards. 7 items : invitations. 41 items : leaflets. 5 items : maps. 13 items : pamphlets.; 9 items : pictorial envelopes ; 10 x 17 cm. or smaller.; 3 items : stationary; 1 item : stock certificate : 55.1 x 66.3 cm.; 5 items (viewbooks) ; 10.4 x 16 cm. or smaller; and 50 items.

Historical Note

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 celebrated the one hundreth anniversary of American Independence. Held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, it was the first major U.S. world's fair. The Centennial Exhibition opened on May 10, 1876 and closed November 10th. Nearly ten million visitors attended the fair in that time. The fairgrounds were made up of five main buildings, as well as some 250 pavilions and auxiliary structures, including twenty-four state buildings, which were each designed in a regional style.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of photographs and ephemera pertaining to the Centennial International Exhibition. The majority of photographs in the collection are in two large albums. The first of these albums focuses on buildings at the exhibition. These prints include images of each of the five main buildings at the exhibition, both interior and exterior images. Many images feature the buildings under construction, especially focusing on the Main Exhibition Building, Machinery Hall and a series of images of the Photographic Association Studio. Interior construction photographs feature the fountain in Horticultural Hall, installation of floors, assorted areas of scaffolding and include railroad tracks and railcars moving through Machinery Hall and the Main Exhibition Building. Other buildings on the Centennial Grounds, including state buildings, Judges Hall, and other corporate pavilions are also featured, as are assorted views of the grounds. The second album features displays inside the exhibition buildings. Large, ornate display cases appear in most of these photographs, some filled with merchandise and some empty but surrounded by packing crates. Items being displayed range from furniture to locomotives to agricultural machinery. Sculptures, statues and other art objects from Memorial Hall are prominently features in several images. Several other photographs focus on the large Corliss steam engine at the center of Machinery Hall.

Three large scrapbooks form the most significant and impressive portion of the collection. The scrapbooks, compiled by a single collector, feature ephemera from a myriad of sources within and around the Centennial Exhibition. The majority of materials in the scrapbooks were collected from exhibitors throughout the fair. Exhibitors handed out business cards, trade cards, catalogs, leaflets, handbills and other advertising materials to exhibitions visitors. A vast sampling of these materials from a wide variety of industries is represented in the scrapbooks, many of which are printed in several languages and reflect the international feeling of the exhibition. Ephemera from businesses that provided services to Centennial Exhibition visitors, such as tour companies, restaurants, hotels and lodging houses, railroads and music halls or theaters, are also represented in the scrapbooks. Ephemera in the scrapbooks are generally grouped according to the industry advertised, though some industries are represented in more than one of the scrapbooks. Regulations, descriptive materials and other missives from the United States Centennial Committee are featured in one of the scrapbooks, along with materials for ordering the Official Centennial Catalog, Centennial Medals, lithographs of the exhibition buildings and other materials.

Also included in the collection are similar ephemera that were not bound into the scrapbooks. These include leaflets, pamphlets, trade cards, a large series of French business cards, letters from the Massachusetts Commission to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, sheet music composed for the Centennial Exhibition, and stationary. Several souvenir viewbooks and guidebooks to the Centennial Exhibition, which include maps of Philadelphia and of the exhibition grounds, are among these items. Finally, a number of oversized items, including maps, posters featuring exhibition buildings, newspapers published about the exhibition and a Centennial Board of Finance stock certificate, round out the collection.

Existence and Location of Copies

View selected images in Hagley's Digital Archives.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Language of Materials


Additional Description

Related Publications

  • John E. Findling, ed., Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs and Expositions, 1851-1988, (New York : Greenwood Press, 1990)

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Centennial Exhibition photographs and ephemera
Laurie Rizzo
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Audiovisual Collections Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA