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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

Food as a Cultural Awakening

Image of Fair Japan

A Scene From "Fair Japan". Photo credit: Unknown. Source: Cosmopolitan, vol. 31, no. 5 (September 1901), p. 477.

Exposition attendees were introduced to a variety of foods from distant lands at various concessions and exhibits. These included chilies and tamales from Mexico, tea flavored ice cream at Fair Japan, red peppers and tropical products from across Latin America, and a host of beverages.

One can easily imagine the rich blend of smells that emanated from various kitchens and cooking fires. Exposition-goers were exposed to these new and sometimes unusual foods at numerous venues, although most were concentrated in the area of the Midway. "Fair Japan," "Darkest Africa," "the Beautiful Orient"—these exhibits all introduced the foods of their respective cultures to the fair's visitors. The types of foods served, some prepared with seasonings unfamiliar to most North Americans probably shocked many a conservative palette.

The "Streets of Mexico"

Uncle Hank, the protagonist in Thomas Fleming's Around the Pan with Uncle Hank, sampled most of the ethnic foods available on the Midway. This passage describes his first encounter with Mexican food:

Fleming illustration of Uncle Hank's reaction to  Mexican Food.
Uncle Hank's reaction to Mexican Food

"A pretty little Mexican maiden brought him a 'bill of fare,'but as the dishes were of Mexican manufacture, Uncle Hank was for a moment non-plused; … In glancing over the list of edibles, he discovered the word beans; that was enough for him, …he concluded to "go it," but the first mouthful caused him to open wide his capacious mouth and emit a yell that caused a salvo of laughter from the other diners in the restaurant. The dish he had ordered was concocted by stewing a large Mexican bean with a profusion of red pepper and other hot and spicy ingredients, and unless one is accustomed to such food is very apt to prove surprising at the first trial, and this proved to be the case with Uncle Hank." 1

Uncle Hank describes additional experiences with Pan-American Exposition's ethnic restaurants, (see Restaurant Experiences of "Uncle Hank") and in the process, betrays many of the ethnic and racial stereotypes and prejudices so commonplace in 1901 America.

The Midway looking North

The Midway looking North from Alt Nürnberg. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Charles Cutter. Pan-American Souvenir. Niagara Falls, N.Y.: Charles Cutter, 1901

Map of the Midway

Map of the Midway. Created using a map of the Pan-American Exposition grounds printed by Rand, McNally & Co., Chicago [1901?].

Clarence J. Selby wrote about his visit to the Exposition in Echoes of the Rainbow City, and describes his rather unexpected introduction to a Mexican "delicacy":

Fleming illustration of a Mexican man… In the "Streets of Mexico" is a man who sells candy and, to add to the attractions of his place, he has purchased two fine Mexican cactus plants. There are four Mexican brothers who play the marimbon. One is named Carlos Oivera. He found a long-missed dainty. He had been casually examining one of the newly-arrived cacti when he discovered in one of the fat leaves a small, dark spot. It was a sign of the "gusano," a delicacy greatly relished by the Mexicans, who rushed from all quarters upon hearing Carlos cry "gusano." He wished then that he had kept silent, but he whipped his knife out of his pocket and before any one could interrupt him had dug out a fat white worm as long as a man's finger. "Bueno! Bueno!" he exclaimed, as he thrust the squirming worm into his mouth. "Bah!" said an American who stood near, making a wry face, "No, senor," said Carlos, in his broken English, "Bueno, very good; nice, clean; taste like butter." Whether it tasted like butter or not Carlos ate it with a relish and was watched with envy by every other Mexican who saw him eat it. 2

"Fair Japan"

Selby also talks of his impressions of "Fair Japan":

Performers on the Streets of Mexico

Performers on the "Streets of Mexico". Photo credit: C. D. Arnold? Source: From the collection of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. In Kerry S. Grant, The Rainbow City: Celebrating Light, Color, and Architecture at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo 1901, Buffalo, N. Y.: Canisius College Press, 2001. p. 87.

… The young "Jap" that showed us over the place … showed us some beautiful articles of furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and a Japanese suit of armor. I cannot describe half of the lovely things contained in that pretty little house.

But one thing seemed to me very strange; no chairs and tables like we use, The kitchen contained a cook stove which was a strange affair, so low down that a person would have to sit down to cook on it. They tell me the Japanese place cushions upon the floor and sit upon them with their feet underneath them when they dine. There were many cooking utensils in the kitchen. All were very sweet and clean. …

I have one very dear friend who is a Japanese professor in the Imperial school at Tokio, Japan. He both speaks and writes several languages. He has told me much about Japan.

A Water Garden Scen from Fair Japan

A Water Garden Scene from "Fair Japan". Photo credit: N/A. Source: Pan-American Scrapbook [n.p., 1901?]. Courtesy of Kerry S. Grant

The following is a description of a Japanese society dinner:

Upon entering the hall the small servants go down on "all fours" by way of salutation, remove the shoes of the guests and escort them to the dining-room with no chairs or tables in it but covered with clean white mats. A circle of flat cushions mark the places for the guests to occupy. Each one sitting upon his heels. Then in comes the little musumese, or servants, with the dinner.

Flemin illustration of Japanes woman

First of all they serve tea in tiny, beautiful cups without any handles on them, and confectionery shaped like pretty leaves or pink blossoms which look very artistic. Then before each guest is placed a small lacquered table about a foot high holding several small dishes containing the following articles of diet: A small piece of lobster, half a small bird, two sugar-coated Irish potatoes, a small dark bowl of sauce, some slices of raw fish, some preserved cherries and chestnuts and a bowl of brown soup with pieces of fish floating in it. This the natives eat with chopsticks. Then boiled eel on soy. The rice wine is served in slender, long-necked vases. At a signal the musumese retire to the end of the apartment.

One side of the room the wall slides back and reveals a picturesque group of exquisitely dressed girls. They are the "maikos" or dancing girls and their accompanists, the "geishas." The girls, with their most beautiful fans gently waving as they pose in graceful attitudes, are a very pretty sight. They dance to the music of the instrument called the samisen. After they have danced the screens are drawn and the guests continue their dinner. Other dances follow at intervals until rice is brought in, which is the last course and the dinner is over. 3

image of fair japan

The Entrance to "Fair Japan". Photo credit: N/A. Source: The Grandeurs of the Exposition, including State Buildings, Midway Scenes, Foreign Buildings, with Typical Buffalo and Niagara Falls Views. Text by Richard H. Barry. Buffalo, N.Y.: Robert Allan Reid, 1901. Courtesy of the University Archives, University at Buffalo

"Darkest Africa"

Building hut in "Darkest Africa"

Building a Hut in "Darkest Africa". Photo/Artist credit: N/A. Source: Cosmopolitan, vol. 31, no. 5 (September 1901), p. 508.

The "Darkest Africa" exhibit was one of the most fascinating and unusual to Exposition visitors. At the same time, it was also the attraction most maligned in the contemporary attitude and popular print. Clarence Selby writes: "... entering 'Darkest Africa,' where the most unlovely were the greatest attractions. I did not feel at all inclined to handle the black dwarfs and pygmies who inhabit this village of 'Darkest Africa.'... They may be all very nice in their own way, but I would not care to associate with them. However, it was very nice that the concessionaires brought them here so that people might have the opportunity to see them and learn of their habits and customs."4

This Buffalo Commercial article of 10 July 1901 describes dinner at the African Village Pavilion. Indeed, "Darkest Africa" brought sights and smells never before experienced in Buffalo"

Posed scene from African Village

"Darkest Africa". Photo credit: C. D. Arnold. Source: The Pan-American Exposition Illustrated by C. D. Arnold. Buffalo, N. Y.: C. D. Arnold, 1901. Courtesy of Kerry S. Grant.

"The savory odor of African stew drove the visitors out of the African village pavilion, yesterday, to where the cooks were busy at the open fire preparing their dinners. The people crowded around the huts and seemed very much amused at the sight of a big Ogowe warrior, sitting on the ground in front of his fire, skimming the stew with as much care as a cooking school graduate. The stew is made by boiling round steak and fresh fish together. A cupful of tomatoes and one onion chopped fine are added to the boiling meat, with a tablespoon of curry and a generous dash of red pepper. The whole is thickened with flour. It makes a very appetizing dish. The ration for one native for one day consists of two pounds of meat or fish, yams or white potatoes, a loaf of bread, coffee, six bananas and two oranges. Each native had a knife, fork, and spoon, and each has to wash his own dishes. The cool weather has been very hard on the Africans and every precaution has been taken to keep them from catching cold, extra blankets and fires being the order of the day."

German Food at Alt Nürnberg

Alt Nürnberg had the largest restaurant on the Midway and served traditional German cuisine. Numerous articles describe this restaurant although all convey the fact that this was one of the more expensive and upscale dining establishments at the Exposition. Mary Bronson Hart wrote, "The problem of dinner at the Pan-American is one of grave importance. If you are careless of expense it is easy to be happy; you dine at Alt Nürnberg, or up in the Tower, or at the American Inn."5

See Uncle Hank Stops for a Bite at Alt Nürnberg for a somewhat less flattering description of the German eatery.

Image of Alt Nurnberg

Alt Nürnberg. Photo credit: n/a. Source: Cosmopolitan, vol. 31, no. 5 (September 1901)

Fleming illustration of a German waitress
Restaurant at Alt Nurnberg

The Restaurant at Alt Nürnberg. Photo credit: C. D. Arnold. Source: C. D. Arnold. The Pan-American Exposition, Illustrated. Buffalo, N.Y.: C. D. Arnold, 1901, p. 104.

The "Indian Congress" and Village

The Indian Congress attraction introduced visitors to 42 different tribes of North American Indians. As with most of the culture-based Midway "exhibits," the Indian Congress was wrought with ethnic and racial stereotypes, the most blatant being the reference to the participants as "savages" and the daily sham "battle" between the savage natives and the United States Army. Despite this, the Indian Village did afford visitors a chance to see some of the customs of individual tribes close-up. In his introduction to the Historical Biography and Libretto of the Indian Congress, Frederick T. Cummins writes of the Native participants,

Three Chiefs of the Indian Congress

Three Chiefs of the "Indian Congress". Shown are (l-r) Chief Lone Elk, Sioux; Chief Red Cloud, Sioux; and Chief Hard Heart. Photo credit: C. D. Arnold Source: The Pan-American Exposition Illustrated by C. D. Arnold. Buffalo, N. Y.: C. D. Arnold, 1901. Courtesy of Kerry S. Grant.

… While at the Indian Congress and on exhibition in the Indian Village, they will live in their primitive way in tepees, wickiups, and adobe houses, and afford the public a rare opportunity for the study of their traits and characteristics; their habits, sports and pastimes; their rites, ceremonies and dances.

… Their domestic and industrial life is represented by the curing of meat, the preparation of meal, the splitting of wood, the setting up of tepees. The squaws do all this, besides the ornamental work, such as beading, making moccasins, lottery and clothing; weaving blankets and making baskets, and adding to the personal adornment of their lords while they sit around, talk, smoke, and paint their faces and bodies for the dance or battle. … 6Most visitors to these Midway attractions were aware that the Native Americans living in these "primitive ways" were indeed, performing. Although the promotion of such stereotypes and generalizations would be considered offensive today, the concessionaires were giving the paying public of 1901 what they wanted. Indeed, many paying customers were probably disappointed to find that in reality, the "savages" they encountered were really not all that different than themselves.

…I was watching some women over at the Indian village. They were holding their skirts daintily away and were peering into greasy old kettles that some squaws were stirring.

"Isn't it awful to be obliged to eat that sculch?" said the fair pale-faces.

Five minutes later the women were angry because the Indians were eating dinners sent in from a restaurant. The visitors declared that it spoiled the realism to find that the Indians were not eating the food they cooked themselves… 7

Children in the Indian Congress

Children of the "Indian Congress". Photo credit: n/a. Source: Cosmopolitan, vol. 31, no. 5 (September 1901), p. 504.

The "Esquimaux Village"

Arctic Natives of the Esquimaux village dining "behind the scenes" (left) … a somewhat different perspective of what the public saw, or expected of the seal-hunting, kayaking, whalebone-carving people of the frozen north (right).

Image - Dining behind the scenes

Dining in the "Esquimaux Village". Photo credit: n/a. Source: Pan-American Exposition Scrapbook [n.p., 1901?]. Courtesy of Kerry S. Grant

Image - Members of the Esquimaux Village

Scene from the "Esquimaux Village". Photo credit: n/a. Source: Pan-American Exposition Scrapbook [n.p., 1901?]. Courtesy of Kerry S. Grant

Exposure to Cultural Foods Not Limited to the Midway

While much of the more exotic cultural cuisine was available in the restaurants of the Midway, agricultural and processed food products specific to the countries of Canada and Latin America were exhibited elsewhere on the Exposition grounds. Sizable exhibits of individual countries were mounted in sections of the larger exhibition buildings. For instance, Mexico and Canada both had exhibit space for food products in the Agriculture and Horticulture Buildings. Most of the smaller countries, however, exhibited foodstuffs in the buildings commissioned by their respective governments.


The Official Catalogue of the Mexican Exhibits at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo proudly introduces readers to the agricultural products exhibited by Mexico in the Agriculture Building:

… If we are to examine now the various products that make up the important division of foods, we will see figuring prominently an extensive collection of coffee; there are samples on exhibition coming from each one of the states producers of that rich grain, and it is a fact well known that since the Brazilian crisis stimulated the production, Mexico has notably enhanced her coffee plantations, and this is now one of the most important articles of export. In competition with all the other coffee producing countries, Mexico has obtained the highest awards for her coffee in all the expositions that have been held up to the present time.

Cocoa is a product which also promises a great future in Mexico, and is exhibited by a varied collection together with chocolate manufactured by two of the most important factories in Mexico.

Notwithstanding the great competition that sugar cane has been subjected to on account of the increase in the production of sugar beets, it still holds its place vigorously, and is the foundation of inexhaustable richness throughout the vast territories of the States of Morelos, Veracruz, Puebla, Jalisco, and many others. As a complementary to the sugar industry we might mention the production of alcohol, although only when employed in certain industries, it pertains to this division.

The exquisite and varied collection of liquors is also worthy of special attention, because the fruits from which they are prepared in factories of the best established reputation, are equally abundant. National beverages on exhibition, such as "pulque," which is the favorite drink of the people, should not be passed unnoticed. 'This "pulque" is exhibited through a special process of preservation. Beer, whose consumption is increasing daily, receives such impulse in Mexico that it can be stated that there is not a state in the Republic without a brewery, some of them with more than $1,000,000 invested.

The above information is at least a brief outline of the agricultural resources of Mexico, and reveals, as we have already said, the great evolution that has taken place throughout the country within the last few years by the impulse of the vigorous administration of one of the greatest statisticians of the present time.

A careful inspection of the products exhibited by Mexico in the Department of Agriculture, will fully demonstrate the vast field of action she has for enterprising men. 8

From a cultural perspective, the impression given by these exhibits is certainly different than that found in "The Streets of Mexico" attraction on the Midway. Of course, the purpose of such exhibits was not to entertain, but to promote the country and its products in an attempt to increase trade and investment. Below, the Comisión Nacional de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos para la Exposición Pan-Americana describes the pomological and viticulture exhibits in the Mexico section of the Horticulture Building. Here, visitors learned that the United State's southern neighbor produced more than just tequila. Few visitors were likely to have predicted that a century later, the United States would be the largest importer of fruits and vegetables produced in Mexico.

Mexico Exhibit in the Agriculture Building. Photographer/engraver: unknown. Source: Mexico. Comisión Nacional de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos para la Exposición Pan-Americana de Buffalo, N.Y. Official catalogue of the Mexican exhibits at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A. May first to November first 1901. Buffalo : The White-Evans-Penfold, 1901.

… Apples, peaches, figs, pears, and apricots are produced in abundance for the local markets, but no efforts have been made for drying and preserving these fruits on a large scale. In some sections the fruits are rich and of very fine flavor on account of the good soil and limited rain. The States of Coahuila and Chihuahua possess large tracks of lands where pomology could be engaged in extensively to good profit, if proper plants were erected for the drying and evaporating of the surplus fruit. Grapes are also produced in abundance and excellent wine is manufactured in the State of Coahuila, but not yet sufficient to meet the demand, as large quantities are imported.

To the east and west of the table lands, on the slopes of the Gulf and the Pacific, is the region for the production of tropical fruits-bananas, pineapples, mangoes, mameyes, oranges, limes, and citrus family in general; chirimoyas and anona species grown luxuriantly. With the exception of oranges at certain seasons of the year no other fruits are cultivated for export.

In vegetables, recently, the truck farmer has established in the State of Tamaulipas experimental farms for the cultivation of tomatoes-farms that have become practical and profitable, as already carloads are sent early to market for export. Later, probably, the truck farmer of Mexico will export also cucumbers, green corn, and melons in winter, as it is at this season that these vegetables are cultivated to greater advantage. It will be some time, however, before other fruits and vegetables will be exported; the excessive express rates are almost prohibitive for their profitable cultivation. Another great drawback to the industry is the costly packing of fruits and vegetables. …

…Vine culture in Mexico is obtaining a gradual and steady development, and the local consumption of wines and liquors is also attaining a great importance.

The country already produces red and white wines of extra fine quality, but still imports from foreign countries more than $2,200,000 worth of these same wines each year.

The production of "pulque," the popular and national drink (made of liquids extracted from the agave tree), reached the enormous figure of 3,000,000 hectoliters yearly.

In this Republic is also produced wines of agreeable odor and delicious flavor made from quince, orange, and pineapple fruits.

Many modern establishments in Mexico are entirely given up to the manufacture of all kinds of liquors and alcohols. "Tequila," already well known in the United States, is one of the principal alcoholic drinks manufactured and consumed in Mexico. 9

Descriptions of the food product exhibits of other countries represented at the Pan-American Exposition will be added to this site as they become available.


  1. Thomas Fleming. Around the Pan with Uncle Hank: His Trip Through the Pan-American Exposition. New York: The Nut Shell Publishing Co., 1901.
  2. Clarence J Selby. Echoes From the Rainbow City. Chicago : Travelers Bureau, 1902. p. 48. Selby was a blind, deaf, mute who visited the Exposition accompanied by aids. Many of his observations are based in part on the descriptions provided to him by those assistants and the people he encountered at the Exposition. Thus, his writings are as much a reflection of the society around him as they are his own attitudes. The line drawing illustration of the Mexican man is from Thomas Fleming's Around the "Pan." With the exception of the Midway map, all line illustrations on this web page are attributed to Fleming.
  3. Selby, pp. 56-58.
  4. Ibid., pp. 64, 71.
  5. Mary Bronson Hartt. "How to See the Pan-American Exposition," Everybody's Magazine, v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901): 488-491.
  6. Frederick T Cummins. Historical Biography and Libretto of the Indian Congress. [n.p., 1901]
  7. Holman F. Day. "Three Pilgrims at the 'Pan.'" Everybody's Magazine, vol. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 427.
  8. 8. Mexico. Comisión Nacional de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos para la Exposición Pan-Americana de Buffalo, N.Y. Official catalogue of the Mexican exhibits at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A. May first to November first 1901. Buffalo : The White-Evans-Penfold, 1901. pp. 5-6.