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.