Iced Tea, Ice Cream Cones, and Other World's Fair Wonders

Iced Tea, Ice Cream Cones, and Other World's Fair Wonders
Frances Cleveland: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One week


The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 was the last great World’s Fair of the 19th century and the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 was the first of the 20th century.  In each case, the exhibitions introduced artistic, industrial, and gastronomic marvels of all kinds.  Ice cream and iced tea, for example, were each popularized at one of these two Fairs.  The Chicago World’s Fair was held in the year that Grover and Frances Cleveland came back to the White House, and the St. Louis World’s Fair was held four years before Grover Cleveland’s death.


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the phenomenon of World’s Fairs, which were, in many ways, the precursors to the great theme parks of today—Disney World, for example.  In the process of exploring the two Fairs, students will assess the evidence and decide which one was the greater World’s Fair.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Access to print materials PowerPoint presentation program Art supplies Paper and pen or pencils or word processing program


1.  Begin the lesson with some background on World’s Fairs.  The first two websites (below) will be of some help, as will the books listed below.  Include in the discussion the fact that many things that are commonplace today made their first appearances at World’s Fairs.  Interesting examples (if not perhaps the most important ones!) are ice cream cones and iced tea.  

2.  Divide the class in half, and direct each half to study either the Columbian Exhibition of 1893 (Chicago World’s Fair), at which iced tea was introduced, or the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition of 1904 (St. Louis World’s Fair), at which ice cream cones were introduced.  Using print and web resources below, students can divide up the research in any way they wish, but the following categories need to be attended to:

  • Site of the Fair
  • Important people responsible for the Fair
  • Major buildings at the Fair
  • New inventions at the Fair
  • New products at the Fair
  • New foods at the Fair
  • Notable attractions at the Fair
  • Famous “Firsts” at the Fair  

3.  When the research has been completed, students can demonstrate their findings in any of several ways: PowerPoint presentations, oral reports, essays, “newspaper” accounts, scrapbooks, models, or any other agreed-upon way.  

4.  After students share their findings, a whole class discussion should be conducted on the relative merits of the 1893 and 1904 Fairs.  Students should put forward arguments for each one, and a vote should be taken.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by staging a local “World’s Fair” in your school.  All faculty and students could be involved in a variety of ways, and learning in all subjects would be enhanced.

Sources & Resources:

Allwood, John. The Great Exhibitions. New York: Studio Vista, 1978.
Badger, Reid. The Great American Fair: The World's Columbia Exposition and American Culture. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979.
Findling, John E. Chicago's Great World's Fairs. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1994.
Harrison, Helen. Dawn of a New Day: The New York World's Fair, 1939/40. New York: New York University Press, 1980.
World’s Fairs 

History of World’s Fairs 

The Columbian Exhibition of 1893 (Chicago World’s Fair) 

The Louisiana Purchase Exhibition of 1904 (St. Louis World’s Fair) 

History of Tea 

History of Iced Tea 

History of Ice Cream 

History of the Ice Cream Cone 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.