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Coming Soon – Chicago ØØ: A Century of Progress

Posted under Stories by Julius L. Jones

CHM digital content manager Julius L. Jones writes about Chicago ØØ: A Century of Progress, a forthcoming virtual reality app on the 1933–34 world’s fair and the third installment in the Chicago ØØ series.

Chicago ØØ is an ongoing venture to create new media experiences with CHM’s extensive photograph, film, and audio archive and to tell the city’s stories in the places they happened. Its name refers to the corner of State and Madison Streets, the intersection where the city’s address numbering begins. The project is a partnership between CHM, spearheaded by vice president for Interpretation and Education John Russick, and filmmaker Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and generously supported by the Princess Grace Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The A Century of Progress International Exposition enchanted fairgoers with a sleek and optimistic vision of a modern future driven by the accomplishments of science, architecture, and design. The city’s second world’s fair stretched for more than three miles along Lake Michigan, where a wide variety of attractions enticed millions of visitors. Nicknamed “The Rainbow City,” fair planners used unique and innovative designs, as well as bright paints and technologically advanced lighting techniques, to create the vibrate colors for which the event became known.

Colorful picture for the 1933 A Century of Progress world's fair
Posters such this one depicted the vibrant colors that became synonymous with the event. CHM, ICHi-59851

As the crowds made their way into the fair, Chicago was a city in crisis. Like many of the country’s industrialized urban centers, the Great Depression hit Chicago especially hard. By 1933, the city’s manufacturing workforce had been cut in half and the city itself was nearly insolvent. The combination of joblessness and social disenchantment fostered a new militancy as aggressive work stoppages and labor organizing increased dramatically. Despite these factors, fair organizers were confident that the event would serve as a unifying force for Chicago and the nation. While the endeavor was a commercial success, it carries a complicated legacy. Racial minorities and women faced limited representation and employment opportunities at the fair, a reflection of the pervasive discriminatory attitudes of the era.

An aerial view of the 1933 A Century of Progress world's fair looking west from Lake Michigan.
An aerial view of the 1933–34 world’s fair looking west from Lake Michigan. CHM, ICHi-066469

The Chicago ØØ: A Century of Progress app takes users through the fairgrounds, beginning with the North Gate and the Avenue of Flags, highlighted by the opportunity to see the entire fairgrounds from the vantage point of the Sky Ride, an aerial tramway that provided 360-degree views of the entire city. The Sky Ride’s two towers stood 628 feet tall, making it the tallest structure in Chicago at the time. The two passenger cars, nicknamed “Amos” and “Andy” after the title characters of a the popular radio show, were suspended 215 feet above the ground and spanned more than 1,800 feet (a third of a mile).

Poster marketing the Skyride attraction.
The Sky Ride was the fair’s most prominent attraction and the tallest structure in Chicago. CHM, ICHi-040448

To achieve this feat, Chicago ØØ commissioned Aerovista Innovations to take aerial photography at the site of the fairgrounds. Two licensed pilots used a camera mounted on a drone to capture contemporary 360-degree footage at the location and height of the Sky Ride, recreating the views from the attraction’s two passenger cars and the Northerly Island observation tower. Paired with historical photographs and film footage of the fair—compiled by CHM curatorial assistant Trevor Cunnien—the photography will immerse viewers in a unique virtual reality experience.

Licensed pilot from Aerovista Innovations piloting a drone
A drone-mounted camera captured the aerial shots used in our newest app. Images by CHM staff

Stay tuned for the launch of our latest Chicago ØØ app—a chance to relive the event that merited a star on the city’s flag.

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