Monday, August 9, 2010

The Potential of Electrical Power

The World’s Columbian Exposition 1893

All museums have objects in their collections that somehow do not quite seem to fit in. One object at the Chilliwack Museum is an acid etched, glass service bell from the Columbian Exposition of 1893. The bell includes the name of the original owner identified as Kenneth A. McK. Wilkinson whose relatives lived in Chilliwack. It is a lovely little bell and at times, when I perused the glass cabinet, I often wondered how this bell might be included in a display, other than in a cabinet of curiosities.

Fortunately for us, we decided at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, to develop an exhibit on the British Columbia Electric Railway called “More Than Just a Tram”. We were certainly short of objects for the exhibit, especially objects that focused in on the trams themselves. However, the B.C.E.R. also sold electrical appliances for use in the home, on the farm and to businesses and so the exhibit was filled with older electrical items.

This same shortage of objects for the exhibit also made us look at the collection and ferret out objects that may not have originally seemed relevant to an exhibit about the B.C.E.R. and electricity. Somehow the bell came to mind and what a grand discovery was made! It turns out that this souvenir bell is our first featured object. Why?

The potential of electrical power was dramatically demonstrated in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair). The electrification of the world was set in motion when a single dynamo was used to light all of the fair’s buildings and walkways. Over 27,000,000 visitors attended the exposition which ran from May 1 to October 31, 1893.

We like these types of connections and it always makes me curious what else we will discover through the day as we develop themes for exhibits and what object stories might surface through our research.

Image: Souvenir bell from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

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