Known as the Century of Progress International Exposition, it was the first world’s fair that had a significant Florida state presence. The fair was a popular and financial success even though it took place in the midst of the Great Depression.
Located on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, IL, the fair was one of the largest world’s fairs ever held in the United States. It came at an interesting time. 1933 saw the world struggling through the worst part of the Great Depression. Adolf Hitler had just become German chancellor and Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected US president.
Still, the fair was a popular success with some 48 million visitors over the 17 months it ran in 1933 and 1934. It took place on 427 acres (1.73 sq. km) of reclaimed land.
Florida had a larger presence at the Fair than most of the other states. As it states on page 91 of the fair’s official guide book: “Florida has four exhibits – among her sister states, a colorful patio of a Florida residence, surmounted by a sky of varying daily tints. In the center plays a fountain. Sculptures, murals, dioramas and glassed-in exhibits tell of her farm and industrial life, supplemented by a garden of exotic plants and trees; on the lagoon shore the state has planted a citrus grove of orange and other semi-tropical fruits; on the lagoon floats a spongeboat from the Greek colony at Tarpon Springs, where divers plunge beneath the waters for sponges planted in the lagoon; in the Home and Industrial Arts Area is a Florida home, built largely of materials native to the State.”
There was also the Seminole Indian village display that included alligator wrestling.
Just prior to the Great Depression, Florida had been enjoying its first tourism boom and many small attractions had opened up around the state. The state could see the potential for income from tourists, so even though, population-wise, it was a small state in the 1930s, their presence at the fair was significant. Of course, the coming of World War II put a temporary halt to what would be Florida’s golden era of tourism, but not for long.