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To the Races

In 1890, Congress passed an act to “extend to foreign nations an invitation to send ships of war to join the U.S. Navy” in an international review of ships. The event would be part of the World’s Columbian Exposition, scheduled for Chicago in 1893 and commemorating the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.

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On April 27, 1893, more than 35 vessels with an estimated 10,000 sailors from nine countries crowded into New York Harbor and the Hudson River for the Columbian Naval Review. Rail and steamship lines offered “excursion rates” to the event, which drew thousands of people to the waterfront. Among the warships were replicas of Columbus’ Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. An identifier on the photo of the gigs above says: “under tow to boat race.”

President Grover Cleveland was aboard the Navy dispatch vessel Dolphin to review the fleet, which represented every phase of naval engineering. In the evening, there were searchlight drills and signaling demonstrations. The following day featured a shore parade, and the celebration ended with a banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in honor of the commanding officers of the fleet.

In Chicago, 46 nations participated in the exposition — also known as the Chicago World’s Fair — which served to show that the city had recovered from the devastating fire of 1871. Among the attractions was the debut of the Ferris wheel, standing 264 feet tall and carrying 2,160 people at a time. The fair was a tremendous success, and the naval review was judged a diplomatic coup, as many of the rival nations that participated put aside their differences to attend.

But the good feelings would not last through the decade. By 1898, the battleship Maine had been sunk under suspicious circumstances in Havana harbor, and America and Spain were at war.

June 2015 issue