General Editor: Andrew R. L. Cayton, Richard Sisson, and Christian Zacher
“Prodesse quam conspici” (“To produce rather than to be conspicuous”), the motto of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is a fitting credo for the American Midwest as a whole. In the popular imagination, Midwesterners are generally considered proudly ordinary people who speak dialect-free American English and go about their business without fanfare or drama. Performers born there tend to leave, though pride in life and place is given a visible presence. Those who remain daily demonstrate the workings of a democratic culture that embodies what many people consider the fulfillment of the American Dream. Midwesterners, writes our Language Section Editor, “are thought to be strong, brave, polite, hard-working, self-effacing, self-sufficient, generous, friendly, Protestant, white, normal, average, and boring.”
The familiar midwestern landscape consists of gleaming silos and white houses sitting amidst endless green fields of corn, linked by meandering streams and asphalt highways to rectangular towns dominated by stores, banks, and professional offices along Main Streets surrounded by frame homes with wide porches decorated with hanging pots of geraniums and suffused with the aroma of fresh-baked bread. Railroads and expressways join these towns to the vertical skylines, cavernous business districts, and sprawling factories and suburban office buildings of St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Omaha, Wichita, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Indianapolis, Columbus, Detroit, and Chicago.
These iconic images seem so natural and right to so many people that they easily obscure the contingent and contested culture of the American Midwest. In accepting what the region has become and the image it projects (or what other people project onto it), we sometimes lose sight of its diversity, its exceptionalism, and the paths its residents have chosen not to follow. The modesty announced in prodesse quam conspici has been accompanied not only by confidence in the institutions of family and community and a capacity to overcome adversity but by an acceptance of the status quo, a distrust of idiosyncrasy, an avoidance of confrontation, and a general lack of self-reflection.
The American Midwest: An Intrepretive Encyclopedia is a labor of love by hundreds of people, most of them natives of the region, who believe that the question of whether the Midwest constitutes a distinctive place is one worth pondering. Indeed, the guiding principle of this work is a belief that the process of contemplating that question is as important as any answers offered individually or collectively by our authors. In the largest sense, we hope the Encyclopedia contributes to the civic culture of the United States. We mean to inform. We also hope to provoke public discussion about the Midwest as something more than the sum of its parts. If readers frustrated by the borders we have imposed or irritated by the conclusions reached by some of our authors respond publicly with their own ideas about the Midwest, we will have accomplished our overall goal of encouraging more conversation about the region.
Of one thing, however, we have no doubt: whatever the Midwest lacks in flamboyance or precision, it gains in significance. The conquest, settlement, and development of what we call the Midwest is one of the most important events in the past quarter millennium of human history. In the nineteenth century, millions of people entered this interior region, forcibly displaced thousands of American Indians, and established a society that dominated North America and much of the globe throughout the twentieth century. This breath-taking transformation amounts to one of the most all-encompassing and significant revolutions in the history of the world. No other place besides the American Midwest better reflects the combined impact of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century and the transportation, communication, and industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century. No other place on earth brought so many different human beings together in such a short period of time to negotiate and fashion new ways of life. No other place better exemplifies the values of market capitalism as well as ideals of social equality, civic culture, and local democracy.
Perhaps we tend to slight the significance of the Midwest because its history is largely a narrative of the accumulation of ordinary events into large-scale change rather than a story of dramatic turning points. It has been a place that encourages people to do what is necessary to accomplish an assigned task; a place that nurtured hundreds of women who in the early 1870s suddenly refused to tolerate the effects of intoxication and marched into saloons and stores demanding that the proprietors not sell alcoholic beverages; a place that produced generals like Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, John J. Pershing, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, men who did what was necessary to win wars without being seduced by the charms of fleeting glory, and leaders like Jane Addams, Robert LaFollette, and John Dewey, for whom change was always straightforward and practical. Pragmatism underscored the far-reaching reforms advocated by William Jennings Bryan at the turn of the twentieth century, Hubert H. Humphrey’s campaign for civil rights at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, and the promotion of worker’s rights by Eugene V. Debs and A. Philip Randolph.
A century ago, when the Midwest was coming into its own, its boosters celebrated their contributions to human progress with fairs, histories, monuments, and public buildings. Characteristically, their stress was on the United States rather than the Midwest. Among the most famous events was the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first trans-Atlantic voyage of Christopher Columbus. Over twenty-seven million people visited the Exposition, making it one of the greatest attractions of its era. Constructed on more than 600 acres that ran for two miles along Lake Michigan, the Exposition introduced the first elevated electric railway, moveable sidewalk, and Ferris wheel. Visitors popularized hamburgers, carbonated beverages, Cracker Jack, Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum, and Aunt Jemima syrup. The centerpiece of the exposition was the White City, a collection of buildings showcasing exhibits from all over the world that gave birth to the Beaux Arts style and the City Beautiful movement.
In less than a year, 12,000 workers raised some 400 edifices in the Roman Imperial and Greek style at a total cost of more than $8,000,000 in 1893 dollars. Director Daniel Burnham said they were imposing a neo-classical white harmony on what had only recently been a wilderness. The Exposition was both an illustration and a symbol of the nineteenth-century transformations exemplified by the Midwest. Promoting harmony and order, the Exposition married material and artistic achievements into a tribute to both civic ideals and consumer fantasies. Its white facades, writes our Cultural Institutions Section Editor, “expressed turn-of-the-century assumptions of white, Anglo-Saxon supremacy and deemed ancient Greece and Rome as the pinnacles of world art and culture.” “Villages of non-white and non-Western ‘natives’” reinforced “notions of social Darwinism and the supposed evolutionary differences between savagery and civilization. Its rituals of nationalism—the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ was written expressly for the Chicago fair—instructed visitors about American patriotism.”
The White City and the Exposition were so remarkable that they overwhelmed even the most hardened visitors. Labor organizer Debs wanted working-class Americans to be able to “look upon the beautiful in art as well as nature, a form of worship entirely devoid of cant and hypocrisy, superior to any worship narrowed by creeds and dogmas.” (Quoted in Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 218) L. Frank Baum remembered the White City when he imagined a place called the Emerald City in the Land of Oz and no doubt it influenced the productions of Walt Disney, the son of one of the construction workers.
In its tribute to progress, to the potential of an alliance between commerce and art, to the possibilities inherent in human collaboration and public culture, the White City and its promoters obscured as much as they revealed. The boosterism of the Midwest—its ceaseless interest in promoting itself as the emblem of all that is good and decent—was never more vividly displayed. The result was something not unlike the history and culture of the Midwest: the rapid creation of an enormously attractive and popular place whose glittering lights and gleaming surfaces made invisible the conflicts and challenges that lay all around it.
Outside the White City, the Midwest in the 1890s was in the midst of a crisis that constituted one of the worst periods of economic depression in the history of the United States. Chicago, like other cities in the region, had grown so quickly that it sometimes seemed haphazard, even chaotic. Buildings came down almost as soon as they went up. Hundreds of thousands of people arrived from Europe and the Americas, speaking multitudes of languages and worshipping in multitudes of sacred spaces, finding work in dangerous plants and dismal offices and living in overcrowded and inadequate housing. While working-class immigrants organized to survive and farmers rallied against the powerful railroads, middle-class Midwesterners fretted about being overrun by immigrants whose values and manners affronted their sense of respectability, moderation, and stability. Serious issues, including corporate regulation, currency reform, temperance, public education, and labor unions, bitterly polarized Midwesterners. It was in this context that people rushed to the Columbian Exposition to ride the Ferris wheel and sample the treats in the central area of food stands dubbed the Midway. Many were simply seeking amusement.The White City was a consumer fantasy, a place of escape from a troubled and difficult world.
Implicitly, the Exposition celebrated the first century of the American Midwest as much as it celebrated the voyages of Columbus. The White City’s blend of pretension and pragmatism, of entertainment and education, as well the degree to which it obscured conflict and diverted attention from problems, reflected the commonly understood history of the Midwest as a whole. In general, popular narratives of regional history recounted a story of development that unfolded with such speed and thoroughness that people could scarcely remember what came before it or what went into its making. The history of the Midwest was a tale of inevitable, uncontested, and natural progress.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, American Indians and some Europeans lived in villages on the banks of lakes and rivers from the Ohio River to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Ojibwas and Sioux inhabited what we call Wisconsin; Osages lived along the lower Missouri River; Illinois and Pottawatomies were south of Lake Michigan; and Shawnees, Delawares, and Miamis dominated the Wabash, Maumee and Ohio valleys. In addition to agriculture, these peoples depended on commerce with French and English traders. They traded furs and skins, some from as far away as what is now the Dakotas, for cloth, guns, alcohol, and steel instruments. The future Midwest was a heavily forested area laced with lakes and rivers that facilitated the commercial ties that connected the Sioux, the Osage, and others with Paris and London, inducing ever increasing dependence on European and European-American technology and trade. Beyond economic ties, Indians sought diplomatic and military alliances with Europeans, exploiting their power and position to play the French and English off against each, and to use Europeans as leverage against the imperial Iroquois.
This destruction of this world commenced in the middle of the eighteenth century. The 1754 arrival near the forks of the Ohio River (modern-day Pittsburgh) of a party of Virginians under the command of a young George Washington precipitated a world war that lasted until 1763 and resulted in the demise of the French empire in North America. The triumphant British were unable to manage their victory, however, and alienated a wide range of Americans, including the Indians of the Great Lakes as well as the artisans of Philadelphia and Boston. In 1776, thirteen Atlantic colonies declared their independence and established a republic. Along the way to forcing British acceptance of this new order of things, Americans defeated Indians all the way from New York to Georgia. A series of conflicts after the 1783 Treaty of Paris climaxed in the defeat of Indian warriors just before and during the War of 1812 and the mutual acceptance by Great Britain and the United States of a permanent border at the Great Lakes. Despite sporadic violence in the upper Mississippi Valley, in the 1820s and 1830s the American republic held sway from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Plains. Ironically, the names of all Midwestern states, with the exception of Indiana, would be drawn from Indian cultures.
Within a matter of decades, Americans and Europeans completed the revision of the landscape of the future Midwest. They consumed and laid waste to forests, drained swamps, and constructed roads, canals, and railroads. They planted corn and wheat, tended fruit orchards, and raised hogs and cattle, making their region one of the breadbaskets of the world. They built thousands of small towns along transportation routes that became local entrepÃ´ts, communities of rectangular blocks covered with solid brick and frame homes emanating from that central Main Street commercial core. Strategically located communities became processing centers, transforming grain into portable goods such as beer and flour or butchering hogs into a multitude of products.
A variety of large cities grew up in the region, but Chicago—established in 1837, only half a century before its White City would dazzle the world—became the transportation, commercial, and cultural capital of the North American interior almost overnight. Railroads built Chicago. Timber from Minnesota and Wisconsin, wheat from the Dakotas, corn from Iowa filled the warehouses along Lake Michigan. Lawyers and entrepreneurs flocked to the city to bet on the future of grain sales and real estate development. Burned to the ground in 1871, Chicago barely paused in its reconstruction and growth. By 1900, it was a grand place, with a distinctive skyline formed by tall buildings, broad streets, and rectangular squares. Chicago was the primary destination of people eager to move beyond rural and small-town lives. Beyond Chicago, from Ohio to Kansas, the Midwest at the turn of the twentieth century was a commercial and agricultural paradise, unlike anything else in the world.
The role of government is often as invisible in the history of the Midwest as the presence of Native Americans. The United States Congress created a territorial policy in the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that would provide the template for American expansion throughout the nineteenth century. Land in the Midwest would generally be surveyed and sold in squares, creating the checkerboard right angles that mark most of the region. An orderly process allowed people to form states, starting with Ohio (1803), and moving through Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Missouri (1821), Michigan (1837), Iowa (1846), Wisconsin (1848), Minnesota (1858), Kansas (1861), Nebraska (1867), North Dakota (1889), and South Dakota (1889). As important, the Northwest Ordinance ensured that states would have republican governments, that they would encourage public education and religion, and that they would not permit slavery (except in Missouri). While support for education and opposition to slavery were controversial and sometimes more rhetorical than real, they nonetheless came to define the Midwest in the popular imagination.
By the mid-nineteenth century, in fact, many residents attributed their progress
to the cultivation of free labor and to cultural institutions such as schools and churches that molded people of middle-class character. The public culture of the Midwest flourished in a host of activities, from popular Chautauquas to thousands of local voluntary societies committed to the moral and material progress of human beings. More than half of the Carnegie libraries built in the United States were in the Midwest. The region boasted a plethora of Christian denominations whose congregations built beautiful churches and supported dozens of private colleges to train ministers, teachers, and good citizens. States, meanwhile, created public school systems and public universities, and over time designed some of the most innovative curriculums in the world. This trend climaxed in the third quarter of the nineteenth century with the founding of the great land-grant universities that would become the public face of the Midwest in the twentieth century, symbols of democratic higher education reflected in the motto of The Ohio State University—“Disciplina in civitatem” (“Education for citizenship”).
Nineteenth-century Midwesterners took pride in their development, although their sense of region was ambiguous as best. They spoke of their home as the West or the Great West. (The term “Midwest” did not become common until the early twentieth century.) More often, they talked in terms of states rather than the region as a whole. Although they saw the Union victory in the American Civil War as an affirmation of regional values, they organized themselves, as did the army, by states. When the “boy general,” Arthur MacArthur, planted the American flag on the top of Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November 1863, he reportedly exclaimed, “On Wisconsin!,” not “On Midwest!”
The sons and daughters of the Midwest were everywhere between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s. From 1860 to 1960, Midwesterners occupied the White House more than half the time. Other prominent politicians included John Sherman, William Jennings Bryan, Eugene Debs, George Norris, and Robert La Follette. The region became the crossroads of national transportation systems and headquarters of the most important American industries. Inventors and entrepreneurs such as Thomas Edison, Cyrus McCormick, the Wright brothers, John Deere, Richard Sears, Garrett Morgan, Charles Kettering, Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, and William Lear all came from the Midwest. Personal health and diet movements began in the Midwest. The area has encouraged a large number of medical and pharmaceutical advances as well as important medical clinics. Major American writers from William Dean Howells and Mark Twain to Langston Hughes and Willa Cather were Midwestern. Poetry, the famous literary magazine, made its home in the Midwest. Here were some of the greatest creations of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan and city planners like Daniel Burnham and George Kessler. Here jazz flourished and the issue-oriented talk show evolved.
By the early twentieth century, the transformation of the landscape into what we think of as the Midwest was largely complete. The dynamic age of revolutionary change gave way to an era of stability and stagnation. Once on the cutting edge of global change, the Midwest came to epitomize the American status quo. Midwesterners were supposedly pragmatic, middle-of the-road people. When twentieth-century Americans thought of the Midwest, they thought of Harry Truman and Oprah Winfrey, Jane Addams and Gerald Ford—plain-spoken, respectable citizens. Many imagined the Midwest as homogeneous, predictable, and boring, the kind of place people dreamed of escaping from to some place that was brighter and more dynamic. One of the great tropes of American autobiography in the twentieth century is the tale of the small-town Midwesterner—like Cole Porter—who goes to New York or Hollywood to make it big, reversing the migration pattern of the nineteenth century.
The Midwest by the middle of twentieth century seemed to be more a state of mind or attitude than a specific place. Midwesterners were distinguished by their lack of distinguishing characteristics. Anything but flamboyant, they supposedly had no discernible accent or clothing or customs. Their culture, like their history and their landscape, was linear and straightforward, without major drama, without peaks or valleys; no oceans, though bordered by great lakes; no great wars, though war defined the region from the mid-1700s until the early 1800s and in the 1860s; no major problems, despite the existence of agrarian discontent, racial tensions, and urban poverty. Midwestern cuisine (supposedly meat and potatoes) was the Midwestern palate and Midwestern culture in miniature: solid, practical, unimaginative. Midwesterners by definition were not introspective, at least not publicly. They were nice people who produced without being conspicuous, living comfortably within the hermetically sealed world of a Garrison Keillor monologue.
Unlike Southerners or Westerners, who thrive on, even demand, conversation about regional identity rooted in a profound sense of alienation from some vague American mainstream culture and its government, Midwesterners are apparently happy to identify with the United States as a whole. Their local pride is all about exemplifying the best of America. The Midwest is the Heartland, the nation writ small, the great middle, lacking extremes, lacking diversity.
The Amnerican Midwest attempts to complicate this image, to demonstrate that this apparently stable region has always been a crucible of dramatic political protest, social reform, labor unions, and cultural movements, that its extremes in production are as wide as those in climate. History would have persuaded less foolhardy souls against such a dubious enterprise, for efforts to think about the Midwest as a whole have traditionally foundered on the rock of definition. Rarely have scholars gotten beyond debating whether Ohio and Nebraska belong together. While we recognize the value of such arguments, we have in practical Midwestern fashion tried to get on with an examination of the region and to let definitions emerge from the process. We may be taken to the woodshed for our choice of boundaries but it was an unavoidable trip no matter what we chose to do. The Encyclopedia embodies our belief that culture is often a matter of perception, that what people believe to be true matters as much or more than what scholars may demonstrate to be empirically verifiable. Our sense is that people drinking coffee in a cafÃ© off I-70 have a strong sense of what the Midwest is: they may not be able to explainable it formally, but in a phrase popularized by Midwesterner and Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, they know it when they see it.
Our Midwest consists of the states created from the original Northwest Territory plus several covered by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the states of the upper Mississippi Valley and those parts of Kansas and Nebraska east of the 100th meridian and of the Dakotas east of the Missouri River. In part, slavery influenced our decision; only Missouri of the twelve was a slave state. In part, geography dictated selection: our region is land drained northward into the Great Lakes and southward into the Ohio, Missouri, and upper Mississippi Valleys. Given the rainfall line of the 100th meridian and the preponderance of rivers as well as the largest bodies of fresh water on the planet, it is heavily forested, generally wet and flat land with ore and coal deposits in its most northern and southern reaches.
The Encyclopedia is organized topically rather than chronologically to
encourage readers to reflect on the region as a whole. Each section was entrusted to a distinguished specialist who in collaboration with the General Editors compiled a table of contents and recruited authors to write entries and essays. Although the organization of each section varies, sections tend to move from the general to the specific, introducing broad themes in longer introductory essays with details supplied in shorter entries that follow. Some sections proceed chronologically and create a narrative; some proceed alphabetically; others combine the two approaches. Rather than have specific sections for women, African Americans, Native Americans, and other groups traditionally excluded or under-represented in books such as this one, we decided to incorporate all peoples as much as possible throughout the Encyclopedia. We have tried to make sure that no one state or group of states is over-represented. In a nod to the importance of state identity in the region, we have included a section entitled “Portraits of the States,” which consists of consciously idiosyncratic essays about the particular qualities of the various states.
Among the many themes in the book as a whole, two recur: universalism v. exceptionalism and homogeneity v. diversity.
Is the Midwest simply a microcosm of the United States?
Our authors are divided in their response to this question. Many do not find anything peculiarly Midwestern in their subject, thereby reinforcing the common wisdom that the Midwest is the least recognizable (and interesting) of American regions. One of the revelations of this Encyclopedia, however, is the number of authors who do believe that there is something distinctive about the Midwest. Readers will find extensive information documenting the extent to which the cultures and peoples of the Midwest diverge from their counterparts in the South, the Northeast, the Plains, or the Far West. To be sure, the region has experienced virtually all of the major developments in the history of the United States—conquest and settlement, immigration and migration, agriculture and industrialization, race and ethnicity, reform and resistance, suburbanization and consumerism—but they have not originated or evolved in precisely the same ways.
Is the Midwest a region of unbroken sameness?
Here our authors are close to unanimous in answering with an emphatic “No!” As we learn in “Images,” the reputation of the Midwest as homogeneous is largely an act of imagination that has flourished with particular vigor since World War II. Beyond easy generalizations, however, lies enormous variety.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Midwest was one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse places on the earth. Its residents were immigrants and the children of immigrants from the eastern coast of North America, most from Europe, and parts of Latin America and Asia. Thanks to 1920s Congressionally-imposed restrictions on immigration into the United States and to the growing visibility of race, the multiple cultures of the Midwest have largely faded from the popular imagination. But in the 1890s, a diaspora of Christian denominations shaped the landscape of parts of the region, like rural Iowa and small-town Kansas. Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis teemed with communities of Poles, Russians, Italians, Hungarians, Lebanese and Greeks, among many others. The Midwest supported hundreds of newspapers and magazines in a staggering number of languages. The German triangle (Cincinnati to St. Louis to Milwaukee) dominated Midwestern culture, introducing German words, customs, foods, and music.
The upper Mississippi Valley attracted hundreds of thousands of Scandinavians who left their imprint from Wisconsin to the Dakotas. In the last decades of the twentieth century, immigrants arrived in large numbers from the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.
The Encyclopedia introduces readers to the cultural diversity of the Midwest, including a vast array of foods, languages, styles, religions and customs. We learn about the strong Midwestern traditions of agrarian resistance, labor organization, and opposition to corporate and middle-class values as well as the deep conflicts engendered by racism and exclusion. We experience the region as a hothouse of ideas and innovations, reforms and revivals as well as a setting for social and physical extremes. We see how the influx of different peoples into the region in the twentieth century, from Appalachians to African Americans to emigrants from Mexico and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, continues to redefine the American Midwest. Today the region is home to some of the most numerous and varied immigrant communities in the United States: Somalis in Ohio, Hmong in Wisconsin, Hispanics in Iowa, and Muslims in Michigan.
Ironically, as in the past, the very variety of the Midwest encourages a veneer of public culture that tends to downplay diversity while it highlights superficial conformity. Midwesterners sometimes insist so much on the importance of civic culture, nurtured in schools, churches, and families and expressed in great public buildings and ceremonies, because it has seemed to be the only way to bring any semblance of order to their complex world. The Midwest exemplifies James Madison’s argument in The Federalist Papers that in an extended territory with a large heterogeneous population it is “less probable that a majority . . . will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists . . . [it will be] more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in union with each other.” (Isaac Kramnick, ed., The Federalist Papers (new York: Penguin, 1987 , 127) Precisely because the Midwest is so diverse, precisely because it does not have homogeneous population or a common interest, it is a region defined to a large extent by the construction of a public culture designed to allow people to talk and participate in ways that suppress differences behind facades of civility and the common good. If this tendency promotes conformity, it also nurtures creativity and passion among people determined to express themselves.
The Midwest in fact is not the land of the bland, but a collection of disparate communities held together more or less by a civic culture that transcends (or at least ignores) differences, fashioned and buoyed by social engagement, and characterized by sustained public participation and philanthropic giving. Thus we emphasize generic institutions of commerce, education, manners, and development. Morality is not specific. It is a general focus on hard work, respect, and politeness. Civic culture is something Midwesterners, especially Midwestern rebels, of whom there are quite a few, want to capture and define. Today, the American Midwest is a source of comfort and conformity, a place transformed from a nineteenth-century symbol of progress into a twentieth-century symbol of stability, from the home of pioneers pointing the United States toward the future into the residence of guardians of the nation’s traditions. Its legacy lies in the settlement of Peoria, Arizona, by people from Peoria, Illinois, and Columbus, Nebraska by people from Columbus, Ohio; in the creation of Main Street at the Disney parks by a native of Marceline, Missouri; in films made on the “Midwest Street” lot at Warner Brothers’ California studio; in the annual Iowa reunion picnics in southern California; in the dead zones of the Gulf of Mexico caused by the drainage of chemicals from Midwestern farm fields; and even in the perfect Illinois town that explorers from Earth find on Mars in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.
The Midwest, in sum, is a remarkable display of human achievement, a rapidly-constructed monument to material progress that hides the ways in which it has been constructed, challenged, and contested and a set of variations on themes that have created a place unlike any other in the world. We hope our readers occasionally shake their heads and mutter, “I didn’t know that!” or, as important, “I don’t know about that!” According to a contemporary journalist, the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 was “the latest and most complete, and by far the best illustrated, of an Ecumenical Encyclopedia, published in one enormous volume.” (Walter Besant, The Cosmopolitan no. 5, September 1893) May our readers find their stroll through this, “the latest and most complete” of encyclopedias, as stimulating as people more than a century ago found a stroll along the Midway and through the exhibits of the White City.