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Machinery Hall

To the west of the Main Exhibition Building stood Machinery Hall, if not the largest certainly the most spectacular and the most popular exhibition hall at the Centennial. Occupying over fourteen acres, Machinery Hall served as a showcase for state-of-the-art industrial technology, which in 1876 meant almost entirely steam and hydraulic power, although electricity and the internal combustion engine were both present.

The most memorable display of industrial power at Machinery Hall was the mammoth Corliss Centennial Steam Engine, whose 56-ton flywheel revolved without noise or vibration at 36 RPM. Powered by an external boiler system, the 1,400 horsepower Corliss Engine drove about a mile of shafting throughout Machinery Hall, which supplied free steam power to exhibitors. Visitors who missed the morning start-up could gather again at mid-day after the engine had been allowed to "rest" for another demonstration. Unlike previous exhibitions, the Centennial was closed on Sundays because George H. Corliss would not allow his engine to be operated.

The nearby Hydraulic Annex housed the Cataract, a system of pumps providing a spectacular display of falling water designed to demonstrate the sheer energy of hydraulic power. Its main function was to supply waterpower to nearby hydraulic machinery, but most visitors took advantage of this display to escape the summer heat.

Other views of Machinery Hall:
     

It was in Machinery Hall that most of the industrialized world, and most Americans themselves, first came to realize the potential of American technological development. Popular and innovative exhibits included the Brayton Ready Motor or Hydrocarbon Engine, an early practical internal combustion engine, the Line-Wolf Ammonia Compressor for refrigeration and ice-making, the Otis Brothers & Co. Steam Elevator Machine, the Baldwin Locomotive Works Engine, the Lightning Rotary Cylinder Press, Seth Thomas's Great Clock, the Wallace-Farmer Electromagnetic Generator, and Alexander G. Bell's Telephonic Telegraphic Receiver.

Most foreign visitors were impressed with American techological know-how. Engineer John Anderson noted in the official British Reports on the Centennial:

If we are to be judged by the comparison with Americans in 1876, as doubtless we shall be in the minds of other nations and in their official reports, it is more than probably that the effect will be to confirm... that we are losing our former leadership and it is passing to the Americans.

The Times of London reported that "The American invents as the Greek sculpted and the Italian painted: it is genius." The report of the German Commissioner General, Franz Reuleaux, was unsparing in its praise for the American exhibits and its contempt for Germany's showing:

In arts and crafts Germany has nothing to show but propaganda and patriotic motifs... We have a feeling of shame as we wander through the German section... It seems seven eighths of the space are occupied by Krupp's giant guns, the 'killing machines' which stand like a menace among the peaceful works of the other nations.


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