Party Like It's 1876! 12 Items From the Centennial Exposition

Getty Images
Getty Images

The 1876 International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and Products of the Soil and Mine, which was more commonly known as the Centennial Exposition, was held in Philadelphia in honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. From May through October, almost 10 million visitors, including repeat guests, wandered through the 249 temporary buildings and stayed in the temporary hotels constructed in and around Fairmount Park. These visitors were treated to more than 30,000 exhibits from all over the world, with each participating country determined to showcase its inventive clout. Here's a sampling of some of the more famous and bizarre items on display.

1. Corliss Steam Engine

The Corliss steam engine was assembled on a platform in the center of Machinery Hall, the main attraction inside the most popular building at the fair. After presiding over the opening ceremonies, President Ulysses S. Grant and his guest, Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro, each pulled a lever to set the famed engine in motion. The impressive machine, which symbolized the United States' rise to industrial prominence, was nearly 50 feet tall and powered most of the machines within the 13-acre building.

2. The Telephone

While the Corliss steam engine initially attracted the largest crowds, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone would eventually become the talk of the fair. Bell, who hadn't planned to attend the event, gave the first public demonstration of his instrument on a sweltering afternoon in June, in front of an audience that included Emperor Pedro and Lord Kelvin. Bell picked up the transmitter and spoke into it. Standing 20 feet away, Empeor Pedro put the receiver up to his ear and famously remarked, "My God, it talks!" Lord Kelvin took the receiver and reportedly said, "It is the most wonderful thing I have seen in America."

3. Portable Bathtub

Ethelbert Watts, a Pennsylvania native who was cashier of the Centennial Board of Finance, introduced a portable bathtub made of rubberized cloth at the Exposition. The inspiration for Watts' invention was what he perceived as a lack of bathing services for travelers.

4. Typographic Machine

The typewriter on display at the Centennial Exposition wasn't nearly as popular with the judges or the public as Bell's telephone. It resembled a sewing machine and featured a QWERTY keyboard that produced only capital letters. The Remington No. 2, which was released in 1878, featured both upper- and lower-case letters on the same type bar. By 1893, Remington was producing typewriters in multiple languages.

5. Mechanical Calculator

George B. Grant, who holds four patents for calculators, displayed his barrel model difference machine in Philadelphia. The machine was 5 feet by 8 feet, weighed 2,000 pounds, and included 15,000 components. When hand-cranked, Grant's invention could calculate 10 to 12 terms per minute. When connected to a power source, its efficiency doubled. The machine received high praise from the judges, but by the 1880s, it was obsolete. Cheaper, more efficient, and—most importantly—smaller models hit the market.

6. Hires Root Beer

Charles Elmer Hires served free glasses of his recently perfected root beer from a booth at the exhibition, a refreshing treat for thirsty fairgoers. The average daily attendance at the fair was never greater than 34,000 between May and August, which was partly the result of a devastating heat wave. The average daily attendance in September and October spiked to roughly 80,000 and 100,000, respectively. Visitors to Hires' booth could purchase 25-cent packages of the dried roots, herbs, and bark that went into his root beer, along with three-ounce bottles of condensed extract. The following year, a local newspaper publisher convinced Hires to advertise his root beer and the rest was history.

7. Bananas

For many visitors, the Philadelphia Exposition was their first opportunity to try an exotic yellow fruit. Bananas, which were still a novelty in the United States and were often served with a knife and fork, were wrapped in tinfoil and sold for 10 cents apiece.

8. Popcorn

Citing records provided by the aforementioned Centennial Board of Finance, which managed to do its job even while some of its members were busy inventing portable bathtubs, the Philadelphia Record reported that a vendor paid $3,000 for the right to sell popcorn at Fairmount Park. "This in its way is as remarkable as the concession to lager at $50,000, and to catalogues at $100,000," the reporter opined. "Considering the cheapness of the delicacy, think how many tons of pop-corn must be sold at the fair in order to justify the merchants in paying $3,000 for the privilege of selling it!" Buttered popcorn was indeed a big hit at the Centennial Exposition. Charles Cretors would display some of his patented popcorn machinery at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

9. Kudzu

Kudzu was one of several ornamental plants exhibited in the Japanese pavilion. While the plant was first used in the United States after the Centennial Exposition as a decorative shade provider, it was later adopted for a much different purpose. When the Soil Erosion Service, which later became the Soil Conservation Service, was created as part of the New Deal, it began recommending kudzu as a means of erosion control. "What, short of a miracle, can you call this plant," Hugh H. Bennett, head of the SCS, remarked.

10. Lady Liberty's Arm and Torch

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who began constructing the Statue of Liberty in 1876, sent the completed arm and torch to Philadelphia for display beginning in August. The torch display was part of a fundraising effort to help pay for the base of the to-be-completed statue. Visitors paid 50 cents to climb a ladder to the balcony around the torch. After the Centennial Exposition closed, the torch was displayed in New York City's Madison Square Garden for several years.

11. Monorail

Long before Disney World opened, General LeRoy Stone's monorail carried passengers around the fairgrounds at the Centennial Exposition. Stone's monorail ran more than 150 yards between Horticultural Hall and Agricultural Hall. The double-decker vehicle featured two main wheels and the rear wheel was powered by a rotary steam engine.

12. Iron Lifeboat

In its centennial look back at the Centennial Exposition, Popular Mechanics recalled the popularity of a lateen-rigged, noncapsizable iron lifeboat on display. "It boasted luxuries no one had ever seen before in a lifeboat—"˜covered accommodations for females and children, arrangements for water-saving, mail box, and required no lowering device.'"

10 Winning Facts about Wheaties

General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary

TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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