Reuben Springer writing his letter of recommendation for a music hall. Everyone knows that Music Hall was built for choral singing, right? Well... it's partially correct. The center hall was built to accommodate choral singing, and also to accommodate expositions when used with the north and south halls, which were expressly built for industrial expositions. In fact Reuben R. Springer, the man credited with the idea of a ''musical hall'', had stated as much in a letter that kicked off the enterprise:

''The Musical Hall building to be located in the center of the lot, and so planned and constructed as to be capable of being used for exposition purposes in connection with suitable buildings that may be constructed on the north and south to the limits of the lot.''

As a successful businessman, Mr. Springer knew that expositions were big business. Not only did they give manufacturers and retailers a way to show off goods and services, they were a form of entertainment -- people would come from miles around to spend the day, or more, at an exposition.

List of subscribers to build the wings But the mere public announcement of the construction of a new Music Hall, to be erected where the old exposition building was standing, created quite both excitement and controversy in the city. Jealousies arose between those who favored the popular music festivals and those who felt the future of the city was best served by more and greater exposition space.

The newspapers, of course, had a field day! Letters appeared in the papers, each more bitter and caustic than the next. In one, a citizen wrote that ''We are a mechanical people, not a race of fiddlers.''

It looked for a while that the internal strife would seriously harm the city. Mr. Springer stepped in, acknowledged the beliefs and feelings of both groups, and offered $50,000 towards the construction of buildings around Music Hall for industrial expositions, provided $100,000 more were donated by other citizens. This was the same ''deal'' he had made to stimulate the construction of Music Hall.

The First Exposition in Cincinnati - and the Nation

1838. May 30, to be exact. That was the date that the first annual Fair of the Ohio Mechanics Institute was staged in Cincinnati. Actually, that was the first exposition ever held in the United States - in the nation's first permanent exhibition hall.

Flyer for the 1870 Exposition The Ohio Mechanics Institute was founded in 1828 to provide education and training for mechanics, a skilled-labor term that, at the time, encompassed blacksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters and others. OMI's 1838 ''Exhibit of Arts and Manufactures'' drew citizens from far and wide to look at industrial products. Maria Curro Kreppel, Professor Emerita of English and Communication, U.C.'s College of Applied Science, studied the history of OMI and says these fairs were started because ''the OMI directors were looking for ways to get more public attention to math and science and industrial topics.''

The Grand Expositions

Eighteen of the fairs were held before the Civil War. Then, after the war, OMI joined with the Chamber of Commerce and the new Board of Trade to hold expositions to try to jumpstart an economy that was hard hit by the war. In 1870, they held the first of the Grand Industrial Expositions at Saengerfest Halle, at 14th and Elm.

In an interview for the documentary Music Hall: Cincinnati Finds Its Voice, Kreppel described the expositions:

''They certainly wanted to show arts and manufacturers and those two terms meant something very different then than they do to us today. We're talking about all of the manufactured arts. Halls full of paintings. Halls full of horticultural specimens. Halls full of architectural art. And they were also talking about halls full of machine tools, early machine tools, lots of steam engines. And all sorts of new pieces of equipment. This was the time of great growth in the American patent office and the spirit of invention was everywhere. And that was quite at the center of the Grand Expositions.''

The Grand Expositions lasted 30 days and drew tens of thousands of people from the entire Midwest region. By 1872, 500,000 people attended. Dr. Kreppel describes the scene:

''Can you picture these folks slogging down the canal? No buses. No public transportation to speak of. It must have been pretty messy just getting there. But they came to see seven acres of machinery in motion and they left $100,000 plus in the city coffers.''

So by 1875, when discussions began about building Music Hall, the OMI directors were looking for a permanent building in which to hold these expositions. Despite the initial controversy, Reuben Springer was able to bring together the interests of the city fathers, the mechanics and others to get the north and south wings built in time for the 1879 Industrial Exhibition. Still, because of the size of the Grand Expositions, Music Hall wasn't the only structure, but it was the centerpiece.

The last of the Grand Industrial Expositions, held in 1888, was intended to showcase the entire region and celebrate the centennial of the Ohio Valley. Visitors were treated to an art gallery as well as industrial inventions of all kinds. The newest phenomenon was electrical lighting and exhibits everywhere featured electrical lighting displays. Says Kreppel:

''Among the wonders, for example, in one of the horticultural areas, you could see the beautiful flower displays interspersed with flowers made of electric light bulbs that were variously turned off and on.''

Thomas Edison's company created an amazing display of one huge incandescent bulb, 30 feet high, using 150,000 light bulbs to create it. This provided a new opportunity for visitors, too, because, with electrical lights, they could view the grand outdoor exhibits at night.

''Above all, however, outside connecting the cruciform building in Washington Park, the Music Hall complex and this three block long Machinery Hall built over the canal where all the machine tools were located, connecting all of that was outdoor electric lighting for the first time ever at one of these exhibits.''

The next exposition held at Music Hall was in 1928 to commemorate Music Hall's Golden Jubilee.

Conventions and Exhibitions Throughout the Years

In addition to the expositions, Music Hall served as the city's convention and exhibition center. One notable event was the Democratic national convention in 1880.

Auto shows, which began in 1917, were held for decades in Music Hall. ''Motor cars'' were often sold on the spot to buyers who traveled hundreds of miles to attend the program. Manufacturers used the auto expos to introduce new models to consumers.

Major renovations were made to Music Hall in 1927. The North Wing, which had been known as "Industrial" or "Power" hall, was converted into an arena for sporting events. The South Hall continued to be used for a variety of exhibitions, often in conjunction with the lobby and auditorium. The biggest shows expanded into the north hall.

Annual expos included the "Home Beautiful" show, started in 1925 by the Cincinnati Real Estate Board In 1929, a new feature was added: construction of a model home in the hall.


"Exhibiting the Changing World through the Ohio Mechaics Institute: From Annual Fairs and Exhibitions to Gran Expositions, 1838 - 1888" is an article by Judith Spraul-Schmidt in Ohio Valley History, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 2005.

Images of Progress: Cincinnati Industrial Exposition Posters is an online feature of the University of Cincinnati's Digital Projects website. The microsite includes information on exhibits at the expositions, or "fairs" as the first ones were called.

A brief history of the Ohio Mechanics Institute from Ohio History Central.

The Archives and Rare Books Library of the University of Cincinnati has an amazing collection of Cincinnati historic items.

The Cincinnati Views website has a page dedicated to Expositions & Festival in Cincinnati.

The poster for the 1878 Exposition - the first in Music Hall

The poster for the 1878 Exposition - the first Expo held in Music Hall

The 1888 Expo which featured electricity

In 1888, the Grand Exposition featured the first electrical lighting displays

The 1888 Expo Poster

The poster for the 1888 Exposition

The 1886 Expo Poster

The poster for the 1886 Industrial Exposition printed by the Henderson-Achert Co. Lith.

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