Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

Pan-American Exposition of 1901

New Technologies at the Turn of the Century


Harrisburg Engine on exhibit in the Court  of the Machinery Building

The Harrisburg Engine. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Power, v. 21, no. 8 (August 1901) p. 3. The Harrisburg Engine was one of many gas and steam engines in the Power Plant in the Court of the Machinery Building. These working engines were not only exhibited to educate visitors, but also to provide supplemental power to run the fountain water pumps and other daily operations of the Exposition.

One of the main functions of the world's fairs was to provide a forum for introducing and exhibiting new inventions and technological developments. The Pan-American Exposition was in its very essence, a working exhibit of the modern marvels of 1901. The use of steam and electrically powered machinery for exhibits and basic operations, not to mention the awe-inspiring illumination effects for which the Exposition is famous, were clear indications that industry and business, and even the government, were at the forefront in technological development. The Exposition hosted companies like General Electric, Westinghouse and some of the prominent engine manufacturers of the day--Lane & Bodley, Skinner, Nash and Bessemer. In fact, many of the larger companies provided "working exhibits"--displays of machinery that not only educated visitors, but actually functioned in the day-to-day operation of the Exposition.

In her article "How To See the Pan-American Exposition," Mary Bronson Hartt describes, from the visitor's point of view, the "modern marvels" on exhibit in numerous buildings throughout the Exposition grounds:

In the main Government Building it is hard to say what you do not want to see. Perhaps the most popular section is that in the southeast corner of the building, under the label "Patent Office." There you see in operation the electrograph, the machine which transmits pictures by wire; the telautograph, which enables you to write your signature ever so many miles away; the voting-machine, the entertaining mutoscopes, the mechanical mowing-machine, where the mown grass grows again while you wait, and scores of other ingenious novelties. In a dark room in this same part of the building the government schools make a novel exhibit of their work by means of the biograph and phonograph, the performance taking place at intervals from half past ten in the morning till five at night. Twice every day, at eleven and at two, there is a demonstration of wireless telegraphy in the War Department, under the government dome.

Thumbnail: The Electrograph

The Electrograph. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Everybody's Magazine, v.5, no.26 (October 1901) p. 397. The Electrograph was an machine for "telegraphing pictures" and the exhibit demonstrated how a portrait could be sent by wire. Below is the telegraphing machine and an example of a picture sent from Chicago to New York.

Thumbnail: Nernst Lamps Exhibit

Nernst Lamps. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 392. Nernst Lamps were displayed overhead in the Westinghouse Section of the Electricity Building. The lighting filament was made of lime-like minerals that, when heated by electric current, gave off a "the most dazzling white light." The fifty-candle Nernst lamp was three times brighter than the normal incandescent lamp of the period, and consumed half the energy.

Thumbnail: The "Dow" Typesetting Machine

The "Dow" Typesetting Machine. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Donald Murray. "The Automatic Age," Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 401.

Niagara dominates the Electricity Building. At the east end of the building is a table covered with telephonic transmitters, and you have but to hold two of them to your ears to hear the thunderous roar of the Falls. The roar was captured by a transmitter in the Cave of the Winds, and is used as a sort of "bally-hoo" by one of the great telephone companies. Nearly half of the north wall of the building is occupied by the big transformer plant, where the power from the Falls, arriving at the high and dangerous potential of 11,000 volts, is stepped down to that of 1,800 volts for use about the grounds.

Model of the Niagara Power House. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 388. The model's cutaway shows the shafts of six of the 5,000 horsepower turbines. For information on a second model of the Niagara Falls Power Company, see "Models of Niagara Falls Power Houses"

This is an electric exposition; the electrical exhibits cannot be contained in a single building; they are everywhere. Niagara power drives the trolley which carries you to the grounds; turns the wheels of the countless machines in Machinery Hall; whirls the electric fans which cool the theatres in the Midway; illuminates the cycloramas and other electrical effects and illusions; makes possible the powerful search-light on the Electric Tower which sends signals to Toronto ; glows in the blended colors of the Electric Fountain, and blossoms in a whole firmament of electric stars which make up the glory of the Pan-American illumination. All this makes of supreme interest a modest little working-model of the Niagara Power House, near the western end of the Electricity Building. A portion of the outer wall is removed to allow you to see the wheel-pit and penstocks, and the turbines spinning in the rush of water, revolving the humming dynamos in the power-house above.

Much of the apparatus in the Electricity Building is beyond the ken of the layman; but the improved phonographs which send their strong, full voices ringing through the building, appeal to the interest of the least technically inclined. In a green burlaps-covered cabinet near the centre of the building is shown a novel apparatus called the akouphone, an electrical appliance enabling the deaf to hear by increasing the force of sound-waves. The Delany telegraph system, the model telephone station, and the X-rays demonstration attract attention by day, while at night the beautiful display of hanging Nernst lamps in the draped roof make the building charming beyond its sister structures.

Jacquard Loom. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901). This automated loom could weave sixteen silk souvenir picture ribbons at once.

Envelope-Making Machine. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 401. The image shows the "modern" automated envelope-making machine (right) next to its 1860 counterpart.

The Monotype. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 401. The Monotype was described by Murray as "an automatic miracle of mechanism that sets up and casts type according to instruction given by a perforated strip of paper."


Beyond the Propylæa, in the Railway Exhibit Building, are dozens of magnificent big locomotives, and new model trolley cars and devices for automatic coupling and the like. A big steam shovel, in operation out of doors just beyond the Railway Building, is a sight worth an effort to see.

The biggest engines in Machinery Hall are in the depressed Central Court. Among the more interesting exhibits on the ground floor are the ice-machines, the paper-box making, the great drills and lathes, and the like. But, then, to those who love machinery it is all fascinating.

Source: Mary Bronson Hartt. "How to See the Pan-American Exposition," Everybody's Magazine, v.5, no.26 (October 1901)

Note: The images used above were inserted by the web site editor and were not printed with Hartt's original article. Click on the individual images to see the source citations.