Filed Under Events

The Great Lakes Exposition

Two Summers of Excitement

During the summers of 1936 and 1937, Cleveland's civic and business leaders sponsored the Great Lakes Exposition. Held along the lakefront on a reclaimed refuse dump, the Expo was intended to foster civic and regional pride, attract visitors and businesses to Cleveland, and provide an entertaining diversion in the midst of the Great Depression.

Local businesses and industries from the region sponsored exhibits designed to celebrate American progress and promote their own products. Standard Oil of Ohio produced souvenir maps to the city, while the Higbee Company hosted a branch store on the expo's grounds, housed in an impressive tower. Visitors learned about regional industries at exhibits such as "The Romance of Steel", and watched patriotic pageants.

Municipal Stadium acted as the western anchor of the grounds, which stretched to East 24th Street. The main grounds extended to East Ninth Street, where the Midway began. The main area featured imposing, albeit temporary, structures and pageantry, while the Midway "Streets of the World" area provided carnival style entertainment with an international theme. Controversy over appropriate entertainment on the Midway swirled around the expo. Originally, nudity and "exotic" dancers were banned, but in 1936 several venues featured scantily clad females and striptease dancers. In 1937 the nudity rule was again enforced.

The Expo garnered some international attention but was never a full blown world's fair. Attendance was not as large as hoped for, and plans to construct more permanent lakeside recreation facilities never came to fruition. Even so, the Great Lakes Exposition provided two summers of excitement and entertainment for many Cleveland residents and out of town guests at a time when spirits needed a lift.

Images

9th St. Overpass Visitors pass under East 9th Street at the Great Lakes Exposition, 1936 Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Byrd's South Pole Ship "Byrd's South Pole Ship" at the Great Lakes Exposition, 1937. Admiral Richard Byrd was a famed explorer, naval officer, aviator and recipient of the U.S. Medal of Honor. His early Antarctic expeditions in 1928-30 and 1933-35 helped launch him to international stardom. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1937
Aquacade Finale Finale performance at the Aquacade of the Great Lakes Exposition, 1937 Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1937
Aerial View, 1936 Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Expo at Night The Great Lakes Exposition grounds lit up at night on the Cleveland Mall, 1936 Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Official View Book Cover Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
The French Casino Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Higbee Tower From the Official View Book of the Great Lakes Exposition - a picture of the Higbee Tower, sponsored by Higbee's Department Store. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Souvenir Guide Front cover of the Souvenir Guide of the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition, featuring the expo fairway Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Streets of the World Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1936
Rose's Aquacade Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1937
Winterland Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1937

Location

Metadata

“The Great Lakes Exposition,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/71.