The year was 1893 and it marked the beginning of a four-year-long depression in the United States. Britain and Europeâ€™s economic woes preceded troubles in the U.S. and led to a reduction in investments in the United States. Economic policy, with heavy reliance on the gold standard, also contributed to the depression, as did the overproduction of agricultural products from a growing farm belt. Farmers had been moving westward with the new ability to transport produce via expanded rail systems and the additional goods drove market prices down. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad collapsed in February and more than 15,000 companies and 500 banks would follow leading to a sharp rise in unemployment.Â Double-digit unemployment rates peaked at an estimated 18 percent in 1894 and would remain through the crisis.
Despite financial troubles, the country put on its best face as the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 opened in Chicago, Illinois.Â More than 27 million visitors attended this world-class event, taking advantage of railroads to converge on Chicago to explore the various venues filled with the latest mechanical innovations, agricultural advances, and cultural treasures. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show thrilled audiences as food and exhibits from around the world amazed spectators. (Click on the image to enlarge the bird’s-eye view of the exposition, from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at Ancestry.com.)
For some, the return trip from Chicago would bring tragedy; two trains collided in Battle Creek, Michigan, killing 27 people on the special train returning tourists from the exposition to the East Coast.
Further south, another disaster struck in August when a hurricane struck Savannah, Georgia, and then moved northward over the Sea Islands to Charleston leaving more than 1,000 dead and 15,000 homeless in its wake.Â Another storm in October struck Cheniere Caminada, near Grand Isle, Louisiana, killing half of the resort town’s 1,600 residents.Â
In Colorado, women won the right to vote by election and New Zealand became the first self-governing country to grant women’s suffrage.Â
The independent Kingdom of Hawaii was invaded by United States Marines in 1893 and its Queen Lili’uokalani surrendered her throne to a provisional government made up of white sugar plantation owners.