Although not a financial success for its
investors, the Centennial Exhibition was an immense success in showcasing
American culture and industry in a world setting. The benefits of
the Centennial to the American economy, foreign relations and wartime
recovery were impressive. In 1851 America had been embarrassed by
its inability to compete on a par with other nations at the Crystal
Palace Exhibition. By 1876 foreign visitors were impressed and captivated
by American progress and industrial know-how. The writer and critic
William Dean Howells observed, "no one can see the fair without
a thrill of patriotic pride."
What most impressed foreign visitors most was America's growing
industrial and commercial advantage. The Times of London,
while noting America's home ground advantage observed, "the
products of the industry of the United States surpassed our own
oftener than can be explained by this circumstance -- they revealed
the application of more brains than we have at our command."
In 1899 the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Statistics was
able to prove
conclusively that the international exhibitions in
which the United States has been interested have had an important
and direct effect in its increasing exports. Prior to 1876 the balance
of trade had been against the United States. After the [Centennial]
exposition the tide turned in favor of this country.
U.S. Foreign Trade [in millions of dollars]
The Centennial fixed America in the minds of the outside world
as a nation of inventors and mechanics instead of a nation of farmers.
In The Brothers Karamazov (1882) when Dmitry considers escaping
to America he is unable to bear the thought of leaving his beloved
Russia "though they were all of them there marvelous engineers,
or whatever it is they are there- to hell with them!"
The Centennial Exhibition was not intentionally a showcase for
technological invention or innovation. Nations and industries wanted
to show the best they had to offer, and while this meant newer and
advanced models, few were willing to risk demonstrating unproven
prototypes. Nevertheless, the Centennial ushered in an unprecedented
era of invention as America moved from the age of steam to the age
of electricity and the internal combustion engine. The Centennial
served to prepare Americans for changes to come, and to prepare
them for a wider international role.