Meet me at the fair: The Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, 1898

During a four month period from June 1, to October 31,1898, more than two and a half million visitors flocked to the Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition in Omaha.  Construction began in November, 1897, and my grandfather who would have been 15 years old at the time, was one of the workmen. I assume that he was working at the electrical trade because he later formed the Burns Electrical Construction Company.  Incandescent lighting was a new technology at the time, and a history of the exposition published in 1910 noted, “The radical departure from the use of the arc light to that of the incandescent lamp.”

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Grand Court at Night looking west. U.S. Government Building in center.

My grandfather Joe was also an amateur photographer.  I have his old camera and some  of his glass negatives.  Some of the plates are cracked and all are covered with grime, but looking through the glass darkly adds to the mystery and magic.   I do not know the names of the four or five fair goers in a number of the photos, but I’m reasonably certain they are some of my relatives and their friends.  What I find captivating are these modern looking faces in the clothing and setting from more than a century ago.


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Fair goers pose for a portrait.

A new set of investors bought the grounds, and the following year The Greater America Exposition opened on the same site.  When the GAE closed all of the structures were demolished or removed.  By the turn of the new century the Omaha World’s Fair was only a memory and memorabilia.


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Administrative Arch

Today Kountze Park at 1920 Pinkney  is located at what would have been the center and the heart of the expo site.  A Nebraska State Historical Marker commemorating the Trans-Misssissippi Exposition is located at Florence Boulevard and Pinkney streets.

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Streets of Cairo attraction on the east midway.

I found a number of websites helpful and interesting in learning about the Trans-Mississippi and Greater American Exposition. These include The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898

and  North Omaha History:Stories, People, Places and Events by Adam Fletcher Sasse



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