A look back at Cincinnati’s Centennial Exposition in 1888

Music Hall was one of the exhibition buildings for the Centennial Exposition in Cincinnati in 1888. The temporary bridge over Elm Street connected Music Hall to the Washington Park Building.

The largest festival Cincinnati has ever thrown opened July 4, 1888. The event commemorated 100 years since the city’s founding, though the name, Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States, folded in the entire Northwest Territory, strangely de-emphasizing the Queen City.

The exposition was “to be an attest of the development of art, science and industry in a century of the Northwestern Territory” and a showcase for the advancements in machinery during the Industrial Revolution. This was the grandest and last of the expositions that Cincinnati had hosted nearly every year since 1870.

It was the sort of event that Music Hall was built for.

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Cincinnati’s tradition of holding industrial fairs went back to 1838 when the Ohio Mechanics Institute, an organization for training skilled tradesmen, presented its first fair. The early fairs were held in OMI’s headquarters in the infamous Trollope’s Bazaar building, the exotic, Moorish-styled marketplace and art gallery on Third Street that had been ahead of its time.

Poster for the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States at Cincinnati, U.S.A., 1888. Cincinnati's Centennial Exposition.

In 1870, OMI teamed with the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade to host an industrial exposition to help jump-start the economy devastated by the Civil War.

The first Cincinnati Industrial Exposition was held in Saengerfest Halle, a large tin-roofed hall at 14th and Elm streets recently built for popular saengerfests, or German choral festivals. Additional halls were constructed for more exhibition space. After a few successful expos, the structure became known as Exhibition Hall.

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