(and Shot Glasses)
in the White City
The World’s Columbian Exposition (also called the
Chicago’s World’s Fair), was held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the
400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
The Exposition encompassed more than six hundred acres of land and
featured almost two hundred buildings. Many of these buildings housed
major exhibitions and attractions; these were in the so-called "White
City," more formally known as the "Court of Honor" (pictured above)
H. H. Holmes (above)
and Daniel Burnham (left).
Thousands of people have heard of Chicago’s "White
City" because of Erik Larson’s best-selling book, The Devil in the White
In this book Larson intertwines the story of two men: Daniel Burnham,
the chief designer of the fair, and Herman Webster Mudgett, also known
as Dr. H. H. Holmes.
Holmes may have been the nation’s first serial killer. After
constructing a three-story building on an entire city block (neighbors
called it "the castle"), Holmes opened it as a hotel for out-of-town
some of Holmes’ guests never left the hotel, at least not alive. Holmes’
building featured soundproof rooms in which he tortured his victims. The
rooms were fitted with gas lines so that he could asphyxiate them at any
time. After they were killed, the bodies were sent via a secret chute to
the basement, where they were meticulously dissected and then stripped
of flesh. The skeletons were then sold to medical schools. In the
alternative, the bodies were cremated in a giant furnace or destroyed in
an acid pit. Holmes’ castle was clearly a Chicago chamber of horrors.
Holmes may have killed as many as 230 people; however, there are only
twenty-seven verified deaths. But over 27 million people visited the
Exposition during the six months it was open. This means that the vast
majority of Exposition visitors escaped the clutches of Holmes. It is
possible that many of them might have sipped their favorite drink from a
World’s Fair shot glass while strolling the streets of the White City.
many different Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 shot glasses are there? That
is difficult to determine, because what someone might call a shot glass
may actually be a souvenir toothpick holder or simply a small beverage
There does appear to be at least one definite shot glass, and this
clear, gold-rimmed specimen with ornate etching is shown here.
But there are countless "ruby flash glasses" that may or may not be shot
glasses. Shown here are just a few examples.
This first glass (at left below) is most interesting. Note how the etching of this ruby
flash glass specimen is virtually identical to the etching of the clear
glass shown above.
On the other hand, the two ruby flash glasses
shown at middle and right above are very different from
The Old Times whiskey took top honors at the
Exposition, and several Old Times shot glasses advertise this fact.
Consider, for example, the three Old Times glasses shown at right.
Finally, there are those glasses whose provenance as World’s Fair shot
glasses seems somewhat indeterminate:
The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was intended to inform all
visitors of the momentous achievements Americans had made in such areas
as the fine arts, industry, technology, and agriculture. It was a
celebration of America’s coming of age--a grand rite of passage into the
twentieth century. As a result, it gave America a chance to show itself
For example, Gustave Eiffel’s inspiring Eiffel Tower made its debut
at the 1889 Paris Exposition International. In response, George Ferris
designed his Ferris Wheel for the 1893 Exposition. This technological
marvel was 264 feet high and contained thirty-six cars. Each car could
hold sixty people. Compare this Ferris wheel (shown at right) to today’s carnival
versions, which have only about fifteen to twenty cars with two to three
riders per car.
The Exposition opened its doors to the public on May 1, 1893, and it
shut them six months later on October 30, 1893. But during that brief
period, the Exposition managed to produce literally tons of
commemorative souvenirs. At least several hundred pounds of these items
appear to be shot glasses. A sampling of these glasses would certainly
dress up the shelves of any shot collector.