Advert for the Chicago World's Fair, 1893, in honor of Spain funding Italy's Cristoforo Colombo, printed in Germany
At a time of pandemic, we remember that in spite of its planetary girth, the world has grown increasingly smaller since the dawn of mass global movement. We can trace the modern spark of that movement to an event commemorated in Chicago in 1893: Columbus’s landfall. The World’s Columbian Exposition, the 1893 World’s Fair, celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Spanish invasion that transformed the western Atlantic lands. Over those four centuries human culture on earth changed. There were many myths for Europeans to tell themselves about the triumph of science over nature and the 'Old' World over the 'New'. Modern North America represented the apogee of that impulse, with its westward expansion under the banner of Manifest Destiny; territorial annexation and the unification of states was nearly complete by 1893. Late-nineteenth-century world’s fairs participated fully in that great mythmaking. While, again, we are reminded today of how well we spread germs and peril, a habit since the age of conquest, fairs showcased the global spread of ingenuity.
They were indeed designed for the purpose of celebrating northern hemispheric achievement through the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations,” in the language of the 1851 World Expo. Among the stories the Chicago exhibits told in 1893 was that of the European exploitation of cacao, a crop unknown to the Continent before Hernán Cortés and his army landed on the Mexican peninsula and sacked the Aztec Empire. The chocolate drink, which conquistadors learned to make from 16th-century Aztecs, and the chocolate bar, developed industrially in 19th-century Europe, took center stage at displays that called out to the indirect role Columbus played in bringing cacao to the attention of Spain in the 1520s.
Charles E. Leland, "A postcard featuring the Agricultural Building at the Worlds Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1893." University of Maryland Digital Collections.
Holland, the US, and Germany sculpted homage to the Columbian expedition in the texture of chocolate at a scale that allowed them also to display the mass-market volume their sophisticated factories were capable of producing by the 1880s. The Blooker Cacao company produced Holland’s most famous chocolate export: Dutch cocoa. Early on, the Netherlands, a land of windmills, had an edge when it came to producing powder from seeds and grains. Before even the Van Houten family "Dutched" cocoa, Blooker's began selling it.
Drawing of Blooker’s Cocoa Mill, in Trumbull White and William Igleheart, The World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. J. W. Ziegler, 1893. p. 183.
Blooker's famously obtained its mill, originally built for tobacco, in 1806. Brothers Johannes and Cornelis opened for chocolate business in 1813. Eighty years in service to cocoa by the time the company set off for Chicago, the historic mill took pride of place in the Windmill Exhibit on the southern end of the fairgrounds.
Drawing of the French Colonies Building (foreground) with windmill exhibit (Blooker mill, upper left), in George R. Davis, Picturesque world's fair: an elaborate collection of colored views. Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1894. p. 147.
Some said it was a replica, while others reported that the original structure had been brought from Amsterdam across the Atlantic. Visitors to the exhibit got a glimpse into the central role the windmill played in Dutch economic and food history. They could sample cocoa in Blooker's Delft-tiled café to the imagined rhythm of the hundreds of blades that rose in the air around them. Perhaps they would have scheduled their visit in accordance with the suggestion in the company’s advertising slogan, captured on its 20th-century promotional packaging: “Half Elf Blookertijd,” half past ten [is] Blooker time.
“Half Elf Blookertijd,” half past ten, Blooker time. Blooker promotional tin. Elka Porselein.
Not far from the windmills, inside the Agriculture Pavilion, other chocolatiers displayed their ingenuity on an industrial scale. Last month’s post highlighted Stollwerck, the German chocolate company with fantastical marketing ideas. Their contribution to conquest's 400th anniversary was suitably memorable: nearly 40 feet of chocolate blocks and a confection-shingled dome sheltering Germania, the nation personified, in this case, as a life-size, solid, edible woman.
Germania in Chocolate--German Argicultural Exhibit. White and Igleheart, The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. p. 174.
But the pièce de résistance de chocolat of the Architecture displays emerged from the factory of Henry Maillard. Born in France, Henri Maillard made his fortune in a confectionary empire only after he immigrated to New York. Known then as “Henry,” he cut his sculptural teeth on sugar paste monuments for none other than President Lincoln on the occasion of a White House renovation reveal party. Shortly thereafter, he made an infamous name for himself creating massive chocolate sculptures at world's fairs.
He is best remembered for the towering chocolate Venus de Milo he brought to the Paris Exposition in 1889. It apparently miffed his mother countrymen to see her in edible form and, worse yet, nibbled from time to time. Faring badly in the heat, she also lost her luster, which further insulted art-loving French and American viewers. Maillard's talents and fortune nonetheless drove his ambition right past the snubs.
On the occasion of Chicago 1893, Maillard outdid himself with a replica Venus de Milo and two companions: Minerva and the man of the hour, Christopher Columbus. Their solid chocolate bodies were grand enough—about 1500lbs each— to warrant their own 1000-square foot exhibit space. Designed to look like an open-air luxury confectioner’s shop, the pavilion treated fairgoers to cocoa as they strolled, as though through a statuary hall. The elaborate display bore witness to the enduring flow of Europeans to America and perhaps in and of itself embodied the virtue of staging the world’s fin-de-siècle wonders in the land of Lincoln rather than France, where the tradition of industrial fairs had begun in 1844.
Detail, site of the Wind Mill Exhibit and the Agriculture Pavilion at the southest end of the fairgrounds. Geographicus.com. Public Domain.
Davis, George R. Picturesque world's fair: an elaborate collection of colored views: comprising illustrations of the greatest features of the Word's Columbian Exposition and Midway Plaisance: architectural, artistic, historical, scenic and ethnological. Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1894.
Trumbull, White and William Igleheart. The World’s Columbian Exposition Chicago, 1893. J. W. Ziegler, 1893.
Westerbrook, Nicholas. "Chocolate at the World's Fairs," in Louis E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro, eds., Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
"Maillard’s Mammoth Chocolate Statues." Blog, The World's Fair, Chicago, 1893. Posted 7 July 2019.