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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

The Necessities of "Public Comfort"

Supporting the comfort needs of up to 100,000 visitors in the course of a day called for extensive planning. The Pan-American Exposition in 1901 came straight on the heels of the Sanitary Reform movement that started in Europe in the 1840's and which was supported by the rise of bacteriology following the discoveries of Pasteur and Koch in the 1880's. Water and sewer engineering were key factors in this movement.

The Exposition Grounds were equipped with over 12,000 linear feet of main sewer lines not including numerous lateral connections. To feed the water supply needs of the grounds, over 75,000 linear feet of domestic water lines were installed.1

Writing for the American Institute of Architects, Thomas R. Kimball notes:

"The subject of public comfort is far reaching. It touches on sanitation and the health of the exposition city. Nothing that guards against ill health must be neglected … there must be the most absolutely perfect sanitation and scrupulous care. There should be no such thing as The Public Comfort building. They should be everywhere and counted by the hundreds."2

The Pan-American Exposition installed at least 53 toilet rooms throughout the exhibition grounds. Of these, 8 were considered "outside of buildings" while 45 were placed within larger structures, as the list published in the Buffalo Evening News on June 26, 1901 shows. Facilities were evenly divided to accommodate women and men with some placed adjacent and some widely separated. There were "over 500 closets and urinals" operative by June 1, 1901.

Restroom Rants

Restrooms were often controversial and appeared to significantly color a visitor's experience of the event. There were allegations of bunco and "petty extortion" by bathroom attendants who reportedly demanded a nickel for use of the facility. There was also apparent confusion over public facilities and those maintained for staff and exhibitor use. An anonymous letter was published in the July 8, 1901 edition of the Buffalo Evening News, p.9, under the heading "Toilet Rooms at the Fair" mentioning that reports about the public lavatory problems were circulating 500 miles away:

For the information of strangers as well as for the convenience of citizens, will you kindly state through "Everybody's Column" where the free toilet rooms are located, and why visitors to the Pan-American exposition are subjected to indignities, as well as the annoyances experience, in regard to the toilet room accommodations in the buildings where one would most naturally expect to find them provided. A short time ago I was told by an official, that there was no public toilet for men in the Government Building -- those which were there were for the attendants -- that visitors must go to the Ethnology Building. Yesterday, July 4th, my wife, who was taken sick, left her pocketbook with her friends, and found she could not get into any toilet room in the Manufactures' Building without paying five cents. She was informed by a policeman that there was a public toilet in the Ethnology Building, where she was obliged to get in line and wait her turn to enter. On the same day I was followed by a porter in a free toilet room and importuned for a nickel, for service which I could not preent being rendered. In behalf of the millions, who we hope will visit the Exposition this summer, "a citizen" prays that the present Ethnology Building be improved. Already one 500 miles away has written, asking if the report circulating there, is true, that visitors to the Exposition grounds are subject to petty extortions for service and accommodation, that health and decency require to be furnished free, at a place of entertainment which is supposed to be properly equipped to accommodate, and expects to receive 100,000 visitors a day within its gates.

"A CITIZEN." Buffalo, July 5, 1901

More Restroom Rants

It was reported by Dr. Roswell Park that there were more toilet facilities installed at the Exposition than were eventually utilized by the public. Complaints by "architectural aesthetes" prompted the removal of free-standing facilities incongruous with the overall Pan-American design scheme.

An editorial in the Buffalo Medical Journal criticized both the planning that had called for temporary comfort stations as well as appeasement of a few hyperesthetic individuals:

It was a most excellent plan to establish "comfort stations" at available points, even of a temporary kind, and it was a senseless act to remove them because a few hyperesthetic individuals objected to them on account of their unsightliness. A large city like Buffalo, with the increased temporary population during the exposition period, would be guilty of a breach of civility did it not provide such accommodations, and the question of architectural beauty might well remain in abeyance util the emergency of the season had passed.

We do not attempt to defend the weak policy of spending several thousand dollars in establishing ugly temporary stations, when comely permanent ones should have been provided long ago. Our design is rather to point out not only the absurdity of listening to objectors to the temporary stations now established, but also the equally reprehensible policy of spending money unnecessarily on structures that soon must give place to better ones. Action should have been taken long ago and the city made respectable by the erection of properly constructed accessible stations.3


  1. Figures from Carlton Sprague, "Some Phases of Exposition Making," American Architect and Building News, v.74 (October 19, 1901) p.20, in Appendix II of Joann M. Thompson's dissertation, "The Art and Architecture of the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901," (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1980.)
  2. Thomas R. Kimball, F.A.I.A.,"The Management and Design of Exhibitions," The American Institute of Architects Quarterly Bulletin, (July 1-October 1, 1901) pp.149-158.
  3. Buffalo Medical Journal, v.57, (August 1901), p.61-62.