The Point: The Exposition
From The Pittsburgh Post, 13 August 1913.
The Exposition Is Celebrating Its Jubilee This Season. First Season in 1889; Great Advance Since. Institution Had Inspiration in Desire for Betterment of the People. City in Movement's Fore.
One hundred and fifty-seven years ago this coming September 25, a small band of pioneers, British soldiers, trappers and Indian guides, pushed through a trackless forest, over the Allegheny mountains for the sea coast and rushed, under urgent orders, to a small plot of ground at the confluence of three rivers, the first flowing down from the north, a second coming up from the south and the third forming and flowing on toward the almost unknown west, where lay a vast empire, peopled by savages and enemies of civilization.
This brave little band sent by King George of England, did not stop until they had reached what is known to every Pittsburgher as "The Point." It was on a Sunday morning that the tired marchers arrived, and yet they did not stop to rest. Warned in advance that French and hostile Indians were likely to attack them from the north, they threw together a rough log fort, or stockade, and raised the ensign of the English king. Then, amid the booming of a small cannon and the shouts of the hardy fighters, was born an infant, that later stirred the whole world under the name of Pittsburgh.
Foundation of Exposition.
On that spot, where followed war, carnage, romance and a gigantic struggle between the nations of the Old World for mastery of this North American continent, there stands today the greatest institution for peace, for human betterment, for enlightenment and education existing as a university of popular education. It was a long time coming, but it came 132 years after the pioneers' arrival. It was born amidst surroundings of peace and progress, fathered by sturdy descendants of the earlier settlers. It was called the Western Pennsylvania Exposition Society. Thus the very foundation stone of Pittsburgh is today the home of her wonderful Exposition.
And when that Exposition movement was born, 25 years ago, there was a second birth. It was modern Pittsburgh, "Greater Pittsburgh," if you please. Simultaneous with the appearance of the institution as a permanent factor in the domestic and industrial life of the community, there came into the ordinary events of Pittsburgh a changed condition. She had been an ordinary community. She had no public parks, no art galleries, no serious effort toward musical advancement. She had many unpaved streets and life beyond the forge, the office and shop was given little attention.
Marks Joint Expansion.
With the Exposition, however, came a demand for all the benefits of the best civilization. With the advance of one has come the advance of the other. For a quarter century this growth has been going on from year to year until the world has been forced to stand and wonder at the giant strides that have been made by Pittsburgh and her people. At the same time, the world has wondered at the institution that has grown apace with Pittsburgh, the oldest permanent Exposition in the country and among the oldest in the world.
This is the jubilee year. A celebration of that event is of intense interest to every man, woman and child in Pittsburgh. Fostered by patriotism, love of humanity, unselfish devotion to the cause of the common good to the people and conducted without personal gain, but with the desire to benefit mankind, this great institution has grown to be a source of pride to all Pittsburghers.
The Western Pennsylvania Exposition Society was founded in 1885. It was the outgrowth of a less important exposition that began in old Exposition park in Allegheny in 1875, but which was operated as a commercial institution. Fire destroyed that earlier institution in 1883, a fact old residents well remember. It became only a memory.
The People Aroused.
It was the loss of that earlier Exposition that aroused Pittsburgh to the meaning of such an institution for the first time. So keenly was this loss felt that in spite of the fact that the older institution was somewhat crude, providing horse races and country fair amusements, a public clamor that steps be taken to replace the loss caused a call for a mass meeting of business men in the Chamber of Commerce. In this meeting the idea of a permanent exposition was discussed and there was outlined the newer idea of an exposition along educational and instructional lines and with a more permanent character in its development.
There were appointed active committees to work out a general plan, and from this plan was evolved an exposition that would entertain, uplift and instruct the people, not only of Pittsburgh, but of the surrounding districts, and give them year by year, information as to the progress of their own community in all lines of development, suppling the best of music, the most healthful of entertainment, and the most accurate of exhibits, representing the advancement of science, art, agriculture, horticulture, domestic and commercial pursuits, and to encourage a demand for better things in life.
The Vital Purpose.
And attached to these purposes was a most significant declaration, that the increment from this effort was to go toward the establishment of a polytechnic school for the coming generations, so that the sons and daughters of the workingmen of this busy district should have the advantages of a higher, useful education that otherwise would be denied them because of the expense being beyond the ability of their parents.
Public subscriptions provided the funds for the first buildings and the city donated the use of the land in that historic spot at the Point. The first buildings were thrown open to the public in 1889. A memorable event it was, intense enthusiasm marking it and with interest keyed up not only for the busy people of Pittsburgh, but among those in all Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia.
The prominent and active men who planned and organized the Exposition require little reference. Some have passed away since, but many survive and are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the institution. These were named as incorporators of the society:
Marvin, S. S. Scull, C. O. Unger, E.J. Speer, J. T. Bindley, John Rosenbaum, M. Lupton, W. B. Gillespie, J. J. McCook, Willis F. Heinz, H. J. Burchfield, A. P. Herbst, D. C. Buhl, H., Jr.A meeting of these members was held in one of the offices of the business houses of the city and the society was formed with J. J. Gillespie as president. Later a site for the buildings was selected at the Point and the city council granted a lease for 50 years for the purpose and then the work of building was undertaken by obtaining life memberships and popular subscriptions. Among the latter was one for $5,000 from Mrs. Mary E. Schenley.
For some time thereafter a suit threatened the progress of the movement as property owners in the vicinity of the Point sought to prevent erection of the building because they said it would interfere with the boat-building industry there. All work stopped for a year, until the supreme court decided the grant by the city was legal. Then work was resumed in earnest. Joseph Stillburg was appointed architect for the buildings and Murphy & Hamilton had the contract for the main building and the Marshall Foundry & Construction Company for Machinery Hall, which was built entirely of iron and glass. In the planning for the main building, it was originally intended to add later a separate music hall, at the Point end of the property, but this never was built. Machinery hall was peculiar, in that it probably was the first iron and glass structure erected in the country, and Pittsburgh products entered into it entirely. It was the last building completed, being finished after the first exposition had opened in 1889. The cost of the buildings was approximately $350,000. In the main building there was no music hall, and for a long time no seats for attendants at concerts. The first musical attractions were confined to two, the Great Western Band, under the direction of B. Weis as leader, and F. N. Innes' band, the latter the only outside musical organization. The season was 40 days in length.
The First Exhibitors.
At the opening of the season, people attended the big show from all parts of the Pittsburgh district. Special excursions were run to the city, and while streets were not paved at the Point, and the surroundings decidedly unattractive, the effect was inspiring. No street cars ran near the place. Everything was a crude, and much had to be done in making the Point accessible to visitors. In spite of this, the first year witnessed the presence of more than 250,000 persons. Since then this attendance has almost doubled annually.
It would not be possible to name all of the original exhibitors, but a partial list is as follows:
Joseph Horne & Co., Westinghouse Electric Boggs & Buhl, & Manufacturing Co., Kaufmann Brothers Westinghouse Machine Co., M. Rosenbaum Co., F. J. Albright, B. D. Reed, H. J. Heinz Co., I. W. Scott, John W. Tim, Joseph Woodwell, Banner Baking Powder Co., Oliver McClintock Co., B. L. H. Dabbs, S. S. Marvin Co., Pickering Co., Bindley Hardware Co., W. H. Keech Co., Hugus & Hacke, Graff & Co., J. M. Gusky, J. C. Bartlett, United States Glass Co., Anshutz Brothers, W. W. Wattles, I. L. Baker, J. C. Grogan, Welsbach Light Co., Heeren Brothers, Murphy & Diebold, Taylor & Dean, S. Hamilton, W. M. Laird, Mellor & Hoene, E. Groetzinger, E. G. Hays & Co., L. Glesenkamp Co. Scobie & Parker.
Made Small Beginning.
There were no outside attractions, such as merry-go-rounds and roller coasters, and comparably, the Exposition was a small affair, but a beginning had to be made, and the appreciative manner in which the efforts of the management was received, gave courage to forge ahead. J. H. Johnson of St. Louis was manager of the exposition, and was supported warmly by the members of the society.
It required considerable courage to undertake so vast an enterprise as this. The investment was heavy and the scheme was untried in so practical a way.
An art gallery located in the upper floor of the main building and passed away with the burning of the buildings in 1901, about the time the society had paid off its indebtedness and was prepared to begin its school plans.
The earlier directors of the Exposition remained with it steadfastly. J. J. Gillespie, who was president for a short time, resigned owing to health and died soon after. He was succeeded by S. S. Marvin, who became president before the first season opened. Mr. Marvin remained in the lead for several years, after which business changes necessitated his removal to Philadelphia. He was succeeded by John Bindley, who served only a brief period and was succeeded by Daniel C. Ripley, who since has died.
Many Years of Service.
For most of this period Francis J. Torrance was secretary of the society, and labored tirelessly and devotedly for the success of the project. When Mr. Ripley retired, Mr. Torrance became president and for more than half of the quarter century of the life of the Exposition has been the active leader in the movement and today is its staunchest friend and supporter. President Torrance has been aided and supported throughout by Thomas J. Fitzpatrick as manager. Mr. Fitzpatrick having been the second man to fill that office, holding it for most of the time the Exposition has existed.
The raising of the funds for the Exposition buildings was a task managed well and successfully. Life memberships to the society were sold at $100 and more than a thousand were taken. Besides a popular loan fund was established, which enabled the society to borrow the remainder of the money to complete the buildings under most advantageous terms. The generous response of the Pittsburgh people to the call for these two plans for assistance was a memorable event in the history of the community. Considering the philanthropic purpose for which the institution was organized, it has been one of the best dividend payers ever known, for its results have more than met the expectations of the founders.
A Wonderful Growth.
The growth and progress of the Exposition from its opening has been steady and marvelous. The attendance increased year after year, and more than 10,000,000 people have visited it since it opened. From a 40-day season it has extended to 46 days. From two bands as musical attractions, there have been brought to the Point each season from five to seven of the largest orchestras and bands of the country, presenting concerts that under other conditions could not be within the reach of the masses. From purely local displays, the Exposition has become a recognized point for exhibitors from all over the United States, and for some years the United States Government has been an exhibitor. The various states have made displays and so have cities and towns. In all these instances the displays have been instructive and interesting; the musical programs uplifting and broadening to the popular taste for the best that the music world affords.
A fortune is expended each year in conducting the Exposition season, all of which goes out to Pittsburgh. This does not include money left by the hundreds of thousands of visitors who annually come to Pittsburgh in the season to do their fall shopping when the Exposition season is open. At the same time the Exposition has inspired Pittsburgh to greater things, and has given an entirely new aspect to the Point district. It has provided Pittsburgh with one of the largest assembly halls in the country, always available and exceptionally well suited for great gatherings and meetings.