Big expectations came with Norfolk's approval as the official site of the Jamestown Ter-Centennial. World's fairs in Chicago; Buffalo, New York (1901); and Saint Louis, Missouri (1904), were considered to have been successful and to have reflected highly on the communities that hosted them. (This was true even in the case of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, an event that famously featured the first X-ray machine. Unfortunately, the device was still too new to assist in the care of U.S. president William McKinley, who was shot by an assassin at the fair and later died.) Norfolk hoped for increased commercial development and investment, and the New York Times sounded an optimistic note ahead of the fair's opening, suggesting that "Uncle Sam has been very generous with the project, as if in atonement for his neglect in the matter of restoring everything south of Cape Cod to Virginia" (Sept. 16, 1906).
That generosity did not come without controversy, however. In February 1907, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a one-million-dollar loan to the cash-strapped Jamestown organizers, a move that drew what the New York Times, on February 5, called "violent and vociferous opposition." Congressman Richard Bartholdt, of Missouri, "created amusement," according to the Times, "when he read the list of entertainments to be featured—naval parades, sham battles, army reviews, &c.—and declared that the main purpose of the exposition seemed to be a glorification of war." In fact, members of the exhibition's own advisory board had issued a written protest the month before, decrying "the diversion of the exposition to the service of militarism." As it happens, the fair's midway, called the "Midway" in Chicago and the "Pike" in Saint Louis, was officially dubbed the "War Path" at the Jamestown event in Norfolk
A Virginia building featured presidential art and there was a re-enactment of the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862) between the ironclads CSS Virginia and USS Monitor. The state of Kentucky, however, also built a $40,000 replica of Daniel Boone's first fort, and Georgia reproduced Bulloch Hall, the home of Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt's mother. In addition, the Dominican Republic sponsored a building, and the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, and Venezuela were represented by either an exhibition or a warship. The deepwater harbor at Norfolk also attracted international yachters, rowers, and hot-air balloonists.
In the end, however, the fair's national and international flavor failed to draw the expected attendance. Jamestown planners were hoping for six million visitors, but fewer than three million actually showed up. Tickets were fifty cents for adults and twenty-five cents for infants, and because of low turnout the event earned only $1,070,149 against its projected revenue of $3,780,000. The financial problems led to the director's resignation mid-festival—an event that, in turn, led to a tiff between the festival board and President Roosevelt—a $2.5 million debt, and the festival ending in receivership.
In addition to the various state exhibitions, the Jamestown Ter-Centennial is especially interesting for the way in which it portrayed three important groups: Indians, African Americans, and the military.
By contrast, the African American exhibition was fairly popular. The U.S. government spent $100,000 on what the Times called the two-story "Negro Building," a space for organizers to "show the life of the colored race from the days they were brought from Africa to the present." The Negro Development and Exposition Company estimated that the exhibition drew between 3,000 and 12,000 spectators per day, and its subjects enjoyed more control in creating their exhibition than did the Powhatans in creating theirs.
The sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller became the first African American woman to win a U.S. government commission when she was asked to build dioramas depicting African American life from 1619, when the black slaves first arrived at Jamestown, until the years following the American Civil War (1861–1865). Still, while the exhibition's focus was the active role that black Americans played in the country's advancement, not everyone was satisfied. The separate building struck some black critics as an example of segregation. Booker T. Washington also expressed concern, but he ultimately praised the exhibition in an August 3 speech that was not widely covered by the press.
A day after it closed, the New York Times called the Jamestown Ter-Centennial "the most colossal failure in the history of exhibitions" and reminded its readers that the fair's board still owed the government $900,000 on its million-dollar loan from February. Despite this shortfall, Virginia had been afforded an unusual chance to showcase itself to the rest of the world, with its first families leading the way. Harry St. George Tucker, a descendant of the famed colonial-era jurist St. George Tucker, occupied the honorary position of festival president, while Lulah Preston Beale, daughter of former U.S. senator, U.S. secretary of the navy, and Confederate senator William Ballard Preston, hosted the Virginia building. The exposition also showcased less visible Virginians—to their advantage, in the case of African Americans, but perhaps less so in the case of the Powhatan Indians. Finally, Jamestown allowed the United States to flex its military muscle in front of the rest of the world and resulted in Norfolk becoming the site of one of the U.S. Navy's most important bases.
February 4, 1907 - The U.S. House of Representatives agrees to loan the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition in Norfolk one million dollars against the fair’s anticipated receipts. The New York Times reports "violent and vociferous opposition," and when the fair closes in November, it will be $2.5 million in debt, $900,000 of which is owed the government.
April 26, 1907 - The Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition, a world’s fair celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of the English settlement at Jamestown, opens in Norfolk.
August 3, 1907 - Educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington speaks at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition in Norfolk, using his remarks to praise the fair’s exhibit on African Americans.
November 30, 1907 - The Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition, a world’s fair celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of the English settlement at Jamestown, closes in Norfolk.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
de Ruiter, B. Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907. (2015, October 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Jamestown_Ter-Centennial_Exposition_of_1907.
- MLA Citation:
de Ruiter, Brian. "Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 1, 2009 | Last modified: October 27, 2015