Filed Under Events

The Industrial Exposition of 1909

Cleveland's First Manufacturing Showcase

In the early 1900s Cleveland had become one of the nation’s principal industrial cities, headlined by its steel industry, yet its industrial output had never been showcased for a public audience. The city’s business leaders wanted to change this in a way so big that Cleveland would leave its mark for years to come. The city hosted an industrial exposition in 1909 that showcased many new inventions and industrial advancements developed in the region, especially in Cleveland. Planned in 1908 by the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, the 1909 exposition was a much anticipated event and one that built upon the highly popular phenomenon of agricultural, industrial, and world’s expositions held in many cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Where Chicago had hosted, in 1893, a tremendous exposition so large that tens of millions of people visited from all over the world, Cleveland held a more modest event to highlight industry. Nor was Cleveland the first in Ohio to hold an industrial exposition. Cleveland had attempted such an event in the early 1880s but lost the event to Cincinnati in 1883. In the years after Cincinnati’s expo, Cleveland overtook the “Queen City” in industrial growth.

The Industrial Exposition of 1909 was held in a massive temporary building on the current site of City Hall. A bridge connected the imaginative canvas-and-pole structure with additional exhibits in the Central Armory. More than 250 exhibitors set up shop at the exposition, ranging from electrical showcases to fur tanning and tobacco presses. Although some of the exhibits at the exposition were from elsewhere around the country, most were from Ohio. This exposition was the site for some very intriguing exhibits, notably the world’s largest mahogany log and a “million-year-old” petrified turtle. In addition to natural exhibits were many mechanical ones. The expo featured many different types of engines that were powered by water, steam, air, and even gas and were able to produce many different amounts of horsepower ranging from 1/8th horsepower to ones that could produce 1,200 times that amount. The biggest attraction and the one people often enjoyed the most was the different size wheels that were powered by these engines and turned at various speeds from extremely slow to extremely fast.

In a sense, the Industrial Exposition was the first major showcase of Cleveland’s impressive manufacturing capacity, but its promise was not fully realized. Although it surely raised regional awareness about Cleveland’s innovations and manufactures, coverage in newspapers makes only anecdotal reference to the 1909 event in the years that followed. Perhaps it stimulated commerce, but arguably this was happening anyway as Cleveland entered the booming 1910s as the newly crowned “Sixth City.” If the 1909 exposition did not produce massive change in the city, however, it did offer a model for future expositions of Cleveland wares, including the Cleveland Electrical Exposition of 1914, Cleveland Industrial Exposition of 1927, Great Lakes Exposition in 1936-37, Mid America Exposition in 1946, and, later, a host of exhibitions held in the I-X Center.

Images

Exposition Poster This promotional poster featured the winning slogan for the exposition, "Onward Cleveland, Onward." The winner received fifty dollars and an unrestricted pass to enter the exposition. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1909
Central Armory, ca. 1900 Central Armory was built in 1893 at Lakeside Avenue and East 6th Street opposite the present-day City Hall. Built by the county to stock units of the National Guard, it was also used for public events including the Industrial Exposition of 1909 and speeches by Charles Evans Hughes during his 1916 presidential campaign. Its 122-foot width was covered by six arched plate girders, with a balcony suspended from the girders by iron rods. The exterior was constructed of stone in a castellated Gothic style copied from fortress-like medieval Italian municipal buildings. The Central Armory was demolished in 1965 and the site is now occupied by the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Office Building, a key component of the Erieview urban renewal project and named after Cleveland's 49th mayor, who went on to serve as United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and a federal appeals judge. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: A. C. Bosselman and Co. Date: Ca. 1900
Spirit of Progress Statue This was one of a few postcards the Exposition Council created for purchase while at the exposition. The statue on the postcard was designed by the same man, J. Milton Dyer, who designed the temporary building that was also used to house the 1909 Exposition. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1909
Greene Self-Dumping Car Haul This postcard depicts a 1/8-scale model of a car haul manufactured for a number of railroads by the C. O. Bartlett & Snow Co. of Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1909
African Mahogany Crotch Log The world's largest mahogany crotch log was on display in the exposition. At 16,800 lbs., it was so big that none of the mill workers knew what to do with it. The log was nicknamed the white elephant because of its rare size. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1909
Exposition Entrance Reminiscent of the electrically illuminated entrance gates to period amusement parks like those on Coney Island, this gateway to the Industrial Exposition stood near the corner of Lakeside Avenue and East 6th Street. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1909
Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, 1883 Cincinnati held an industrial expo 26 years before Cleveland's 1909 exposition. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Date: 1883
Cleveland Electrical Exposition, 1914 Held in the Wigmore Coliseum, which served as the city's leading exhibition hall before the completion of the Public Auditorium in 1922, the 1914 Cleveland Electrical Exposition was intended to showcase applications of electricity and situate Cleveland as the nation's leading city for the electrical industry. Thomas Edison pulled the switch that illuminated East 13th Street, shown in this photo, near the Wigmore Coliseum.. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1914
Tower of Jewels at 1927 Exposition The Tower of Jewels was the visual centerpiece of the Cleveland Industrial Exposition of 1927, held in Public Auditorium and the direct descendant of the earlier expo in 1909. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1927
White Motor Exhibit, ca. 1937 Cleveland's White Motor Company was among several local industrial firms that displayed its products at the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936-37. The Great Lakes Exposition was the largest such event ever held in Cleveland and the only one that came close to rivaling the great expos held in a handful of other major cities in the early 20th century. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: Ca. 1937

Location

Metadata

Michael Kessinger, “The Industrial Exposition of 1909,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 16, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/707.