Things that Matter: Glass George Washington souvenir from 1893 World’s Fair
La Crosse County Historical Society

In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair. Called the Columbian Exposition, it celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, along with other great feats of exploration.

The fairgrounds covered more than 600 acres, and about 200 new — and temporary — buildings were constructed before the celebration. The fair, which ran from May 1 through Oct. 30, was attended by more than 27 million people.

The fair boosted Chicago’s image, with improvements in architecture, sanitation and the arts. The event also gave city leaders a chance to demonstrate that it had overcome the destruction from a citywide fire in 1871.

Many widely known figures visited the fair during its six-month run, including songwriter Katharine Lee Bates; activist Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan; and inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Famous musicians who performed at the fair included Joseph Douglass, Scott Joplin and John Philip Sousa.

One of the many souvenirs for sale was this small glass hatchet made by the Libbey Glass Co. It has an engraving of George Washington’s head, and the words above read “The Father of this Country.” The ax references a myth about the nation’s first president and his run-in with his father’s cherry tree when he was a boy.

The La Crosse County Historical Society is home to many souvenirs from world’s fairs and expositions, and this artifact is the epitome of a souvenir. It’s difficult to imagine a more useless item than an ax made of glass. Its sole purpose was to demonstrate to others that you attended the Columbian Exposition.

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