FrouFrou 4 YouYou

Chicago Millinery History: The Inter-State Exposition of 1873. February 16, 2016

The Inter-State Industrial Exposition was held in an elaborate exhibition hall constructed in 1873, on the east side of Michigan Ave. It was torn down for the 1893 construction ultimately of the Art Institute.

“The Art Institute of Chicago Building (1893 structure built as the World’s Congress Auxiliary Building) houses the Art Institute of Chicago… The building was built for the joint purpose of accommodating the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and subsequently the Art Institute… officially opened to the public on December 8, 1893.”

The souvenir program, of 360 pages, exists to share a bit of the glory. The online copy is from the University of Illinois collection.



The exhibition hall generated much foot traffic, as there were perhaps 600 exhibitors of art work, to carriages, to nails, and coffins. Included, of special fashion interest, were four exhibitors with millinery, and one with furs. The company Gage, Mallory, and Co, perhaps soon to be Gage, later became one of the leading millinery houses of the city. The overwhelming majority of the exhibitors were Chicago based companies, which is an amazing accomplishment since the fire of 1871 had devastated most of the central business district downtown.

Each exhibit was described anywhere from a paragraph to several pages of description and explanation of the items of the exhibit. The millinery ones warranted at most a third of a page. The name most likely thought of from that era and beyond was D. B. Fisk, who had already been in operation for about 25 years.

D. B. Fisk and Co, at Wabash and Washington, had the most extensive description of the millinery exhibitors. Most impressive was their manner of display. A glass case 10 ft tall by 18 ft long, was even more notable, as it was made with one pane of glass from France.

Hotchkin, Palmer and Co., at 137 & 139 State St, featured ladies bonnets. “Trimmed hats, ladies velvet and cloth cloaks.” Also featured were “a case of the celebrated ‘Bazaar’ glove fitting patterns.” This company was perhaps an early applicant to be included as an exhibitor. This exhibition was a major advertising opportunity. Their trade cards used for advertising were so plentiful as to still have been in existence in the past decade for purchase on eBay.

D. Webster, & Co, at 270 & 272 Wabash, featured Ladies and Children’s hats, notions, etc. “This popular firm, who cater to the tastes of all, rich and poor, alike, made a notable display of goods of all qualities, comprising ladies imported bonnets, laces, notions, French flowers, ribbons, velvet, silks, etc, all of which were commendably arranged and bespoke for the exhibitors a replete stock in their line of goods. ”

H.W. Wetherell, & Co., at 45 & 47 Jackson St, featured Millinery Goods,
Trimmed bonnets, etc. “This house was established in 1855…” Also included is the fact that some out of town attendees bought the goods from the display. “They were absolutely compelled to dispose of several trimmed bonnets, forming part of their display…”

While traveling the long exhibit halls, a lady might also have been enticed by the exhibits of several others: J. Cox & Co. Artificial flower; Belding Co sewing silk; Mrs. C.E. Leonard and Dau, feather flowers of 508 Fulton, and John Leber, imitation flowers.

The art work exhibit alone would have taken some serious time to enjoy. It consisted of 167 paintings, 13 sculptures, 20 architecture and design, 7 engravings and chromes, 13 photographs, 10 wax, work, etc. and 3 stained glass.


The view on Michigan Avenue looking North is very different today, but the same spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in Chicago.


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