Wonders of the Chicago World’s Fair – 1893
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: RV Staff Writer J.C.

When three siblings get to visit the opening day of the World’s Columbian Exposition, they see sights and attractions and technology that amaze them. This fictional passage based on an exciting real world event also includes historical figures who were significant in America at that time, some of whom might have actually been at the World’s Fair. Students will read the passage and answer questions on the setting, the details, and the characters.

Click for the passage & questions on one printable PDF.


Charlie, Harry and their kid sister, Dorothy, stepped onto the fairgrounds, their eyes nearly popping out of their heads. They had been waiting a long time for this day, and their parents had agreed and bought them tickets. These were now clenched tightly in their fists, and read, “World’s Columbian Exposition” but everyone called it the World’s Fair.

The construction of the buildings and fairgrounds had been going on for over a couple of years, and it seemed nobody could talk about anything else. When it finally opened in 1893 on that warm but rainy May day, the siblings were thankful they lived in Chicago so they could see it. They were determined not to miss out. The children pressed through the crowd of a hundred thousand people and marveled at it all, not sure what to look at first.

In front of them was a large lagoon with white, modern buildings on both sides as far as they could see. In the distance was the amazing Ferris wheel, the first of its kind. The giant towering wheel sent thrills up the children’s spines. “Let’s go see that first!” said Charlie.

His older brother stopped him. “First, we need to go to the Court of Honor so we can see President Cleveland officially open the fair,” he answered.

“Wow, the actual President of the United States?” asked Dorothy. “Let’s go!”

The children raced over, and soon were watching in amazement as the ceremony began. The President touched a golden lever, and the fairgrounds lit up with electric lights. They could hear the rumble of motors. The fountains erupted in powerful sprays of water. The crowd was delighted and began to spread out to explore the 600 acres of attractions.

The children stood for a moment, trying to decide where to go next. Two men were standing beside them, appreciating the architecture of the white stucco buildings with domed roofs and bright lights. “What do you think, Mr. Baum? This inspiring view gives me some ideas for the Emerald City you’ve been writing about. I’m going to draw up a few sketches later, and you can tell me what you think.”

The second gentleman nodded. “I think you’re onto something, Mr. Denslow. This certainly looks like another world entirely.” The men walked off, deep in conversation.

“I want to go to the electricity building,” said Harry. His brother shook his head.

“I want to go to the midway first,” answered Charlie. “I hear there’s a captive balloon you can take up into the sky, and maybe we can ride the Ferris wheel too!” Harry was also eager to see those things. They agreed and headed out, then realized their sister was still standing there.

“Come on, Dorothy!” Charlie shouted.

The children ran past the two gentlemen. Mr. Baum watched them curiously, thinking to himself. “Dorothy, hmm? That’s got a nice ring to it!”

At the midway, the brothers and sister explored everywhere. They saw big ostriches, funny performers, and strange oddities. They were fascinated by the moving sidewalk and tasted samples of new and delicious candy. Harry decided he loved the crunchy peanuts-and-popcorn Cracker Jack treat. Charlie and Dorothy both thought that Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum was the strangest thing ever, but it was delicious. They noticed other kids were blowing bubbles with the gum, and in no time, they got the hang of it too.

The young trio were impressed by everything they saw. When they visited the electricity building, they saw displays of inventive technology – neon lights, a kinetoscope, a Morse code telegraph, and much more they didn’t quite understand. The children noticed a crowd gathered around a contraption that was set up like a circular stage, and right in the middle of was a copper egg, as big as an ostrich’s. And the egg was rotating in place, spinning in circles and standing up on one end! There were no wires attached to it. The children didn’t know how it was moving and asked the nearest person about it. He pointed and said, “Ask the inventor yourself! Hey, Mr. Tesla, these kids are interested in the Egg of Columbus.”

A handsome man with a distinguished moustache came over. “Hello, I’m Nicola.” He smiled and extended his hand. Wide-eyed, Charlie, Harry, and Dorothy each shook his hand.

Charlie asked, “How do you do that? Is it magic?”

Mr. Tesla laughed. “Magic? No! It’s physics – a type of scientific and mathematical magic, I suppose you could say. This feat is created using an induction motor and rotating magnetic field.”

“Like a steam engine?” asked Harry. He was fascinated by trains.

“Not really,” said Mr. Tesla.

“Is it like when magnets have polar opposites, and they repel each other?” Dorothy asked. Her brothers made faces, certain their little sister had no idea what she was talking about. Nevertheless, she persisted. “So, if the current rotated, then the magnetic field would bounce off the egg and make it start to turn?” She scrunched up her nose, not sure if she had it right.

“You’re on the right track, young lady.” The scientist and inventor beamed at her. “You might have a bright career in science one day.” Her brothers broke out in laughter at the idea of a female scientist.

Two elderly women were standing nearby, listening. When they heard the boys laughing, they stepped forward.

The one wearing glasses said, “Actually, boys, there’s no reason your sister can’t become whatever she wants.” The grins on Charlie and Harry’s faces disappeared. She looked at Dorothy approvingly. “Women like you are the future. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Stanton?” she said to her companion, who nodded.

“Look around you,” said Mrs. Stanton, indicating the modern technology and gleaming machines all around them. “Over there are machines that can mechanically wash dishes and clean floors. Domestic chores will soon be easier and faster, giving women more time to pursue what they really want to do. That includes being a scientist like Mr. Tesla over there.”

“That’s right,” agreed the bespectacled lady. “The suffrage movement is working hard to teach people about equal rights. We are fighting to get women the right to vote and to have the same rights as any man. That includes the right to work in any field. You should have the right to be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, or a scientist – and be paid the same wage.”  

Just then, a worried man came hurrying up. “Miss Anthony? Are you Susan B. Anthony?” The lady with glasses nodded. The man looked instantly relieved. “Oh good. I’ve been looking for you. There are some questions about the speech you’re going to give later this month.”

“Well, Mrs. Stanton, I guess we are needed elsewhere. Off we go. Nice to make your acquaintance, dear,” she said to Dorothy as the pair shuffled off after the nervous man.

The children looked at each other, minds racing with the possibilities of the future. Charlie grabbed his brother and sister by the hand and led them out of the building. “This place is simply amazing, isn’t it? And we haven’t even seen everything yet! Let’s explore it all!”

Comprehension Questions

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