The nearly 10 million visitors to Philadelphia in the summer of 1876, participating in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, could not learn the city’s layout through Google.
Upon reaching the west bank of the Schuylkill for the fair, lauded at the time as the greatest international exposition ever assembled, visitors typically purchased a small, hardback booklet. The artifact, officially called The Visitors Guide to the Centennial Exhibition, offers a glimpse into the Philadelphia of a bygone era.
What it is
The 48-page booklet aimed to familiarize visitors from the around the world with the city’s customs, providing directions such as:
— Numbering houses: “One hundred numbers are allotted to each square or block, commencing at the Delaware River, running West, and at Market Street, running North and South.”
— Numbering streets: “Numerals are used for all streets running North and South. (Fourteenth Street is known as Broad Street.)”
Where we found it
A preserved copy from the event was found in the old Inquirer and Daily News building at 400 N. Broad St. when the newspapers moved in 2012 to their new location in the old Strawbridge & Clothier building at Eighth and Market Streets. It has been in the new combined newsroom since then.
Five things we learned
1. The exhibition spread over 236 acres of West Fairmount Park and had an average elevation of more than 100 feet above the Schuylkill.
2. It was the only guidebook sold on the exhibition grounds.
3. In 1876, the city was lined with about 3,000 miles of telegraph lines.
4. The book was published by J.B. Lippincott & Co., which was founded in Philadelphia. The company would go on to publish notable works by Jack London, Oscar Wilde, and Harper Lee.
5. It was customary for first-class hotels to have steam elevators and electric or other signal bells connecting the rooms and the hotel office, which guests could use without charge. Lower-class hotels typically did not have such amenities.
Archive Dive is a weekly feature that delves into the Inquirer and Daily News archives to uncover interesting stories from Philadelphia’s past. Search the archives for yourself, and subscribe for full access.