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A Young Visitor Describes the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition

In July 1876, 17-year-old Frank Thomas recorded his experiences on a trip in Philadelphia in these diary entries. Chief among the city's attractions was the Centennial Exhibition. A showcase for American industry, agriculture, art, and architecture combined with patriotic displays celebrating a century of American independence, the Exhibition was part of the nineteenth-century tradition of grandiose international fairs dating back to London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite being impressed by the Exhibition’s displays, Thomas’ more immediate concerns are suggested by his next entry, in which he dutifully records his expenses, including twenty cents for candy and "cream mead."

“My trip to Philadelphia in 1876”

Left New York on Wednesday July 12th 1876, at 9.15a.m. by C.R.R. of N.J. new line to Phila. new cars, no dust went at a rapid rate all the way. Stopping at Elizabeth Bound Brooke + Hopewell. when the Delaware River is reached we stopped at Yardley crossing the new bridge over 100 feet above the river. then run over the North Penna. R.R. to Phila. All the stations of the last road are built of stone, also a number of houses and fences being built of stone. Arrived in Phila. on time 11.45. After arriving paid a visit to the Jefferson Medical College 10th + Chestnut st. where a number of cases were being operated upon. went around the building. saw skeletons skulls. Bones + &c, during the Evening went around the city and saw the new Farmers Market on Ridge Ave….

Next went to J.B. Lippincotts + by publishing house on Market st. a six story building. went to the top story in the elevator. to the Binding room went from floor to floor into each department of book making. saw the Ruling and marking machines in operations also the Binding. printing + &c After leaving went to the Peoples Bank on Chestnut st a large granite Building next went into Independence Hall. saw the original Declaration of Independence….

Friday July 14th

Arrived at the Centennial at 10:30. went into Main Building through United States department…. In United States Department—American Mechanical; Warblers swinging as sweet as a canary….The renowned War Eagle Old Ben on exhibition….Machinery Hall went all through a fine display of surgical instruments by the National Surgical Institute of Philadelphia…Fairbanks scales. Got weighed weight 119 pounds, got weighed also on the Howe Scale from Brandon Vermont same weight….

Total Expenses trip to Phila.

July 10 - 3.00
“ 12 - 5.68
“ 13 - .57
“ 14 - 1.80
“ 15 - .55
“ 16 - .22
“ 17 - .39
“ 18 - .25
“ 19-  2.45
“ 20 - .65
“ 24 - .25
“ 25 - .90

Total   16.71

Expenses of Trip to Phila.

Monday July 10 -
Linen boot - 1.50
Handkerchief + Socks - 1.00
Neckties + Gloves - .50

Total   3.00

Wed July 12
Excursion to Phila - 5.00
Candy + Cream Mead - .20
Ice Cream + Post Cards - .23
Car Tickets - .25

Total   5.68 

Thursday July 13

Blank Book - .25
Car Ticket - .25
Car fare - .07

Total   .57

Source | [Frank L. Thomas], "My Trip to Philadelphia," (c. 1876); from Free Library of Philadelphia, Centennial Exhibition Digital Collection,
Creator | Frank Thomas
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Frank Thomas, “A Young Visitor Describes the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 1, 2023,

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