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U.S. Government Building

The United States Government Building, although often omitted, deserves to be ranked among the largest and most important exhibit buildings of the Centennial. Built in the shape of an immense cross whose arms extended 480 by 340 feet, the building was intended to "illustrate the functions and administrative facilities of the Government in time of peace, and its resources as a war power, and thereby serve to demonstrate the nature of our institutions and their adaptations to the wants of the people." Seven departments were featured: the Agricultural Bureau, the Interior Department, the Smithsonian Institution, the Army, the Navy, the Treasury, and the Post Office.

The Government Building, strange to say, was in many respects the only venue for exhibits of purely scientific and anthropological interest. The Smithsonian mounted an impressive Centennial Indian exhibit, a display of stuffed and mounted wildlife, including plaster and "alcoholic" fishes, and an exhibit of "choice and rare crystalline minerals." The Patent Office showed off some of its more impressive models, while the War and Navy Departments displayed uniforms, artillery, ship models, navigation devices, and astronomical images from the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Other views of U.S. Government Building:

A small arsenal of weaponry was on display, including Gatling Machine Guns, Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon, and 20 inch Rodman Guns just outside the entrance to the building. Despite this impressive arsenal, Americans were intimidated by the breech-loading Krupp Guns from Germany. War Department representative S.C. Lyford observed:

If this exhibition should be the means of awakening our people to a sense of our national danger and defenseless condition the display of the Government will not have been in vain. It is useless to attempt to conceal from foreigners that against their fleets we have nothing to offer worthy of the name, and it is criminal to allow our own people to remain in ignorance of our condition… we offer ourselves a willing sacrifice to any feeble power that may wish to enforce an unreasonable demand.


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2001 Free Library of Philadelphia