• J. J. Sedelmaier

Chicago World’s Fair Memorabilia: A Century Of Progress, 1933-34

ve always spent a lot of time gathering “stuff” that I’ve found visually enticing. This process also has triggered my interest in history — especially the history of my surrounding environment in the Chicago area. I’d get my hands on one interesting item, and that would then ignite my curiosity about all sorts of other aspects contained in that item.

A perfect example of this is a promotional booklet that I found years ago. Published by the American Asphalt Paint Company in 1933 and touting their accomplishments in supplying the colorful paints and finishes for Chicago’s second World’s Fair, “A Century Of Progress.” This beautifully designed presentation booklet not only satisfied my graphics arts and design self, but also served as the catalyst for finding out more about the two year event that took place on Chicago’s Lake Michigan lakefront during the depression years of 1933-34. I soon discovered that the Century Of Progress was ever bit as much a big deal as any of the World’s Fairs of the 20th century.

Let’s begin with the American Asphalt Company booklet that started it all for me.

And now a brief overview of the 1933-34 fair. . .

“A Century Of Progress” was actually Chicago’s second fair. “The World’s Columbian Exposition” of 1893 was the city’s first and was held in Jackson Park on the south side. Forty years later it was decided to hold the festivities on Northerly Island in the Burnham Park/Harbor area, just southeast of the main downtown district. This not only offered ready accessibility but took advantage of the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field all clustered around each other. The Chicago Tribune produced the below film explaining Chicago’s fair heritage.

Above: One of the many rendered maps produced during the fair’s two year run. This south/southwest view was illustrated in 1932 by H.M. Petitt of Evanston, IL.

Above: A current north/northwest view of the exposition site.

Above: Emil Robert Zettler designed the bronze Official Century Of Progress Medal. It was offered in three sizes – 2 3/4″, 2 1/4″, 1 1/2″.

Above: This is the first Official “Book Of The Fair”. It was published prior to the opening in 1933. The cover illustration is by Walter E. Ohlson.

Above: This is the standard 1933 Book Of The Fair (with 1934 Supplement).

Above: The 1934 Official Fair Guide Book. Cover illustration by Raymond Katz aka “Sandor”. Sandor designed one of the official fair posters. His 1933 design is shown below.

Above: Deluxe Official Guide hardbound edition

Above: A large format (10″X14″) slipcased book of photographs published by the Reuben H. Donnelley Corp.

Above: “The Magic City” with illustrations by Margaret Freeman.

Above: Framed postcard of the Belgian Village with thermometer included.

Above: Copper plated ashtray.

Above: Personalized lenticular photograph novelty.

Above: Assorted playing cards. Most card sets included pictures/scenes of the fair on each and every card.

 Above: Something for the man in your life. . .

. . . and (above) something for the other man in your life.

Above: Mirror.

Above: Miniature boxed photo sets.

Above: Automobile license tag.

Above: Tea ball set.

Above: Undoubtedly from the second year of the fair. . .

Above: Super small Hofbrauhaus beer stein.

Above: Coasters.

Above: Sculpted relief foil covered trivet.

Above: Bookmarks.

Above: Silver plated ring.

Above: Felt pennants.

Above: Key to the fair and ashtray souvenirs as well as Chrysler and Armour premiums. A big part of the exposition and any world’s fair, were the sponsorships that corporations participated in. Pavilions and events dedicated to large companies and advertisers were all over the Midway. Even the individual states presented their wares. . .

Above: Postcard from Armco-Ferro Corp.

Above: Postcard from Otis Elevator Co.

Above: Duro Decal Co.

Above: Burwood Products Co.

Above: Catalogs from exhibitions at The Art Institute Of Chicago and The Museum Of Science And Industry.

 Above: The Dairy Board.

 Above: Armour & Co.

 Above: Wilson & Co.

 Above and below: The National Sugar Refining Company of New Jersey.

Above and below: H.J. Heinz Co.

Above: Chrysler/Plymouth Motor Corp. Here’s some fun Newsreel footage put outy by Plymouth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY8rZN3tyVA

Above: General Motors Corp.

Above: The Pure Oil Co.

Above: Standard Oil Co.

Above and below: Firestone Rubber Corp.

Below: Firestone tire ashtray.

Above: Ford Motor Co. and some newsreel footage:

Below: Rubber tire souvenir sold by Ford and U.S, Rubber Corp.

Postcard above showing the buses provided by the Greyhound Bus Co.

 Postcard above showing the giant Radio-Flyer wagon on the children’s amusement park “Enchanted Island”.

 Cast-Iron Greyhound bus and steel Radio-Flyer toys sold at the fair.

 Above: The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Above: The Illinois Central Railroad.

Above: The Chicago & NorthWestern Line.

Above: The Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the “Burlington Route”.

Below: The Burlington took full advantage of their presence at A Century Of Progress by introducing their (below far right) stainless steel streamliner The Burlington Zephyr — later christened the Pioneer Zephyr. The diesel powered train broke the speed record between Denver and Chicago. It arrived at the fairgrounds to great fan-fare. Here’s newsreel footage:

The 6 following images: Union Pacific Railroad. The UP had there own streamliner. Louis Paeth designer/illustrator.

Here’s some footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lTGnZt3KiI

An aluminum “Lucky Piece” token given away by Union Pacific.


“Wings Of A Century” was a railroad history pageant presented on the lakefront.

Here’s some footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lTGnZt3KiI

Above: Western Union Co.

 Above: The World Book Encyclopedia.

 Above and below: Sears, Roebuck & Co.

 Above and below: Dutch Maid Cleanser.

Above: The Masonite Co.

Below: The American Bible Society offered a boxed set of selected Books O’ Bible.

 Above: The Christian Scientists had their own pavilion.

 Above: The American Can Co. offered a canned penny bank.

Above: This jar was used by a wide variety of companies – they just stuck their own cap and/or label on it. The customer got a free World’s Fair jar with every purchase. . .

Above: Premium souvenirs from the Dirt-Chaser Mfg. Corp. and the Ball Brothers Co.

Above: Assorted tokens, medallions, pins, etc. . .

Above: Chicago World’s Fair Legion certificate.

Finally, here are some links to additional filmed footage shot at the Century Of Progress:

#AmericanAsphaltCompany #CenturyOfProgress #ChicagosWorldFair

About J. J. Sedelmaier

As President/Director of J. J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc., he is responsible for launching some of the most talked about broadcast animated productions of the past two decades – MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-Head”, SNL’s “Saturday TV Funhouse” series with Robert Smigel (“The Ambiguously Gay Duo”, “The X-Presidents”, etc.), Cartoon Network/Adult Swim’s “Harvey Birdman - Attorney at Law”, and the “Tek Jansen/Alpha Squad Seven” series for The Colbert Report. Sedelmaier has produced over 500 film and design pieces. He has been a professor at NYU, teaching Intermediate Animation and History Of Animation courses, and has curated design and animation exhibits at The Society Of Illustrators, Milwaukee's Grohmann Museum and Westchester Arts Council. In addition, he’s a very organized hoarder.View all posts by J. J. Sedelmaier →