Stunning Drawings of the 1901 World's Fair

The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine
The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine / The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine

The Pan-American Exposition—a.k.a. the 1901 World's Fair in Buffalo, New York—is best remembered as the place where President William McKinley was assassinated on September 14. But writing for The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine before that happened (but in the September issue), David Gray instead marveled that "since the world began, this is the first time that human eyes have beheld such floods of artificial light as the untiring cataract of Niagara generates for the Exposition. There is little to be said about it, because it is too marvelous to be described, and its effects are too successful and obvious to need explanation."

Unfortunately, it's difficult to render the effects of the so-called "City of Light" in a still image. Nor is it possible to appreciate the striking color scheme—which flouted architectural tradition in favor of a rainbow—with the wispy, black-and-white drawings favored by The Century Illustrated. And yet, the illustrations are stunning in their own right and in striving to capture something that Gray admits "must be seen to be comprehended."

Gray compares the architectural balance to Versailles and "other royal pleasure-grounds of the Old World."

As for how it stacked up to Chicago's World's Fair just seven years before, Gray has this to say: "It was out of the question to surpass the Chicago Exposition in size or to rival such an effect of classic buildings as was presented in the Court of Honor. In the judgement of trained men, there were, however, two defects in the Chicago Exposition—a lack of symmetry of scheme and a lack of what is called 'scale.'"

The Expo was intended to charm visitors, not loom over them. "The effect of the whole is pleasant, but it is gay rather than impressive, and this is the result which the architects endeavored to attain."

Drawings by André Castaigne and Harry Fenn for The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine.