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World's Fair Ephemeral and Graphic Materials collection

 Collection 0363-MDHC

The World's Fair Ephemeral and Graphic Material collection contains ephemera and graphic material for more than 35 fairs and international expositions. The fairs represented range from the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London in 1851, considered the first world's fair, to the present. Holdings are strongest for the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition held in Philadelphia, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase International Exposition held in Saint Louis, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco. The ephemera portion of the collection includes advertisements, letters, postcards, tickets, trade cards, menus, souvenir ribbons, and scarves. The graphic materials portion includes illustrations, maps, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, periodicals, photographs, prints, sheet music, stereographs, and a stereograph viewer.


  • 1851-2010 and undated
  • Majority of material found within 1851-1915

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.


1843 Items

4 Sound Discs (One letter half-size box) : 4 vinyl records ; 2 12" records, 2 7" records.

Scope and Content of Collection

The Ephemeral and Graphic Material Collection contains 1843 items. The ephemera portion of the collection contains advertisements, letters, postcards, tickets, trade cards, menus, souvenir ribbons, and scarves. The graphic materials include includes illustrations, maps, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, periodicals, photographs, prints, sheet music, stereographs, and a stereograph viewer.

Historical Note

The idea of world's fairs originated from a French tradition of national exhibitions, a tradition that concluded with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. This fair was soon followed by other national exhibitions throughout Europe and the United Kingdom.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was held in 1851 in London's Hyde Park and is known as the first international exposition. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, to celebrate modern industrial technology and design. It became a platform for countries from around the world to display their achievements.

This exposition set the precedent for the many international exhibitions or world's fairs that have continued to be held to the present. The character and focus of world expositions has evolved to keep up with the changing times. Between 1851 and the 1920, the Golden Age of World's Fairs, the fairs focused on industrialization and celebrating the accomplishments of each country from around the world. Following World War I, the fairs focused on Modernism and "World of Tomorrow." Today, the fairs take a little from both eras: they celebrate modern technology and look to what the future holds for the world.

Even though the fairs have changed over time, they have always allowed people to explore the world outside of their everyday experience. They allowed people to learn about other cultures and experience ways of life outside their normal way of living. The fairs introduced the world to new scientific advancements and new inventions such as the Ferris wheel, telephone, zipper, Cracker Jacks, x-ray, fax machines, and television.

The world's fairs also led to the construction of some of the world's most notable landmarks. Buildings such as the Crystal Palace, constructed for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London; the Eiffel Tower, constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris; and the Space Needle, constructed for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, were all constructed for the fairs in their respective towns.


This collection is arranged in 45 series organized by fair:

Series 1
Great Exhibition (London, England)
Series 2
Great Industrial Exhibition (Dublin, Ireland)
Series 3
New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (New York City, New York)
Series 4
Exposition Universelle (Paris, France)
Series 5
London International Exhibition (London, England)
Series 6
Exposition Universelle de 1867 (Paris, France)
Series 7
Vienna International Exhibition (Vienna, Austria)
Series 8
Centennial Exhibition (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Series 9
Exposition Universelle (Paris, France)
Series 10
Sydney International Exhibition (Sydney, Australia)
Series 11
Internationale Koloniale en Untvoerhandel Tentoonstellung (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Series 12
International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Series 13
New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition (Dunedin, New Zealand)
Series 14
Exposition Universelle (Paris, France)
Series 15
World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois)
Series 16
Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles (Brussels, Belgium)
Series 17
Exposition Universelle Internationale de 1900 (Paris, France)
Series 18
Pan-American Exposition (Buffalo, New York)
Series 19
Glasgow International Exhibition (Glasgow, Scotland)
Series 20
Louisiana Purchase Exposition (Saint Louis, Missouri)
Series 21
Exposition internationale de Milan (Milan, Italy)
Series 22
Franco-British Exhibition (London, England)
Series 23
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (Seattle, Washington)
Series 24
Exposition Universelle et Internationale (Brussels, Belgium)
Series 25
Panama-California Exposition (San Diego, California)
Series 26
Panama-Pacific International Exposition (San Francisco, California)
Series 27
Sesquicentennial Exposition (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Series 28
Century of Progress International Exposition (Chicago, Illinois)
Series 29
New York World's Fair (New York City, New York)
Series 30
Golden Gate International Exposition (San Francisco, California)
Series 31
Expo 58 (Brussels, Belgium)
Series 32
Century 21 Exposition (Seattle, Washington)
Series 33
New York World's Fair (New York City, New York)
Series 34
Expo 67 (Montreal, Canada)
Series 35
HemisFair '68 (San Antonio, Texas)
Series 36
Expo 74 (Spokane, Washington)
Series 37
International Energy Exposition (Hannover, Germany)
Series 38
Knoxville International Energy Exposition (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Series 39
Louisiana World Exposition (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Series 40
Expo 86 (Vancouver, Canada)
Series 41
Expo 92 (Seville, Spain)
Series 42
Expo 2000 (Hannover, Germany)
Series 43
Expo 2005 (Aichi, Japan)
Series 44
Expo 2010 (Shanghai, China)
Series 45
Unidentified materials

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

This collection was transferred to Special Collections and University Archives from the University of Maryland Architecture Library in the fall of 2012. The collection continues to grow as a result of individual donations.

Existence and Location of Copies

Some of the material from this collection has been digitized and is available through the University of Maryland's digital collections:

Related Materials

The World's Fair Collection also includes numerous books. These books are accessible through WorldCat, the university online public access catalog. They are housed in the Special Collections at the UMCP Hornbake Maryland Room National Trust Library Stacks.

Some of the items in this collection have been digitized. These items can be found at the University of Maryland Libraries Digital Collections, A Treasury of World's Fair Art and Architecture. Although limited in size, this collection is unique for its broad coverage of many fairs and expositions.

The Chicago Public Library has several collections on the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The Charles Dudley Arnold Photographic Collection is a visual record for the fair. The Book of Fair is a portfolio of facsimile illustration by well-known artists of the fair. The James W. Ellsworth Collection is the papers of one of the leading directors of the world's fair, including correspondence, records and ephemera. The World's Columbian Exposition Ephemera Collection consists of approximately 199 ephemeral items such as trading cards and other printed promotion items.

The Missouri History Museum has a collection on the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, Missouri. The collections includes the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company papers, official company photographs, and items that were displayed at the fair.

A collection of records from the 1939-1940 New York World's Fairs is housed at the New York Public Library. It includes a comprehensive view of all aspects of the fair. The collections includes correspondence and memoranda, reports, minutes, financial and legal records, architectural plans, design drawings, sound recordings, brochures, leaflets, press releases, and other promotional materials, notably over 12,000 photographs of the Fair, its exhibits and visitors.

The Seattle Public Library has digitized many of its primary and secondary sources on the 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle, Washington. It includes photographs, brochures, and original documentation about the preparations for the fair.

Separated Materials

Several items were removed from the collection and added to the books housed as part of the Special Collections at the UMCP Hornbake Maryland Room National Trust Library Stacks.

Processing Information

The collection was placed in acid-free folders and boxes organized by fair. The items in each series have been grouped together by medium (Clippings, Ephemera, Illustrations, Music, Pamphlets, Periodicals, Photographs, Prints) then subdivided into more specific categories (Advertisements, Letters, Maps, Postcards, etc.) or arranged alphabetically by title.

Guide to the World's Fair Ephemeral and Graphic Materials collection
Processed by Katherine Cowan. Revised by Amanda Moore.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2013-01-15: EAD markup check and verified by Joanne Archer.
  • 2017-05-17: EAD revised following ArchivesSpace migration by Emily Flint.
  • 2017-11-29: Finding aid reviewed and minor edits made by Liz Caringola.
  • 2018-12-13: Finding aid reviewed and minor edits made by Duncan Griffin.
  • 2020-02-25: Finding updated to include additional accessions by Marcella Stranieri

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742