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United States Centennial Commission - International Exhibition of 1876

[Record group 230]
Agency Function
The United States Centennial Commission no longer exists.

Agency History
Following the end of the American Civil War, Americans began to prepare for the celebration of the nation's 100th birthday in 1876. Various citizens of Philadelphia proposed that this exhibition should be held in this city and a resolution to that effect was adopted by the Select and Common Councils in January 1870. Subsequently, the Legislature of Pennsylvania supported this resolution and a memorial was submitted to Congress. Early in March 1870, a bill was presented to the House of Representatives and, after several amendments, was adopted by Congress on 3 March 1871.

This Act created a Commission composed of one delegate from each state and territory appointed by the President to one-year terms. The chief duty assigned the Commission was to

"prepare and superintend the execution of a plan for holding an exhibition, and, after conference with the authorities of the city of Philadelphia, to fix upon a suitable site within the corporate limits of the said city where the exhibition shall be held."

The Commission was charged to hold its meetings in Philadelphia. The Act was clear that, although created by an Act of Congress, the Commission was prohibited from accepting any money from the United States Treasury either as compensation for its members or for any expenses for the exhibition itself.

During 1871, President U. S. Grant appointed the various commissioners and the first meeting date was set for 4 March 1872. The Commission was incorporated by an Act of Congress of 1 June 1872, which also created the incorporated Centennial Board of Finance (Record Group 231). The Commission met in only nine sessions, from March 1872 to January 15, 1879, the date of its final adjournment. Its responsibilities were carried out chiefly by an Executive Committee formed in May 1872 and composed of thirteen members who in turn chose a Director-General to whom all subsidiary bureaus and committees were required to report. Acting in cooperation with the Directors of the Centennial Board of Finance, the Executive Committee throughout maintained control of the basic functions of the gathering, display, and judging of exhibits.

The grounds to be used by the International Exhibition were recently acquired by the City of Philadelphia as part of Fairmount Park (Record Group 149). On 4 July 1873, a tract of approximately 450 acres overseeing the west bank of the Schuylkill River, was formally transferred to the United States Centennial Commission for use as the exhibition grounds, with great ceremonies. Exactly one year later, the ground was formally broken for the Exhibition buildings. At the request of Congress, the President invited foreign nations to participate in the Exhibition on 5 June 1874.

The International Exhibition opened to the public on 10 May 1876 and closed on 10 November 1876. The United States Centennial Commission continued in existence until all of the financial accounting was completed and held their final sessions on 15 January 1879

Archival Records
230.1 Catalogues and Guide Books, (1875-1879)

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Last updated on November 8, 2000