When the Garden State Went Global

New Jerseyans often think the world revolves around their state. A new exhibit at the New Jersey State Museum shows the impact the Garden State had at dozens of World's Fairs.

World Class: The New Jersey building at the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia was modeled after the Old Barracks in Trenton.
Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Athenaeum

It’s one thing to sport bumper stickers expressing Jersey pride. It’s quite another to trumpet the state’s contributions to the whole world. That’s just what New Jersey did at seven world’s fairs from 1876 to 1964.

Our state’s role in those international expos is the subject of “New Jersey on Display: World’s Fairs and the Garden State,” at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton through January 4. It’s part of the yearlong celebration of New Jersey’s 350th birthday.

The exhibit includes displays on Jerseyans such as Thomas Edison and RCA general manager David Sarnoff, who promoted their innovations at the fairs. Jersey-born activist Alice Paul pushed for women’s suffrage at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915.

The exhibit demonstrates that Hoboken immigrant Italo Marchiony patented a forerunner of the ice cream cone and Atlantic City’s William Somers patented a wooden precursor of the Ferris wheel before those things were exhibited at World’s Fairs. Ferris debuted his wheel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

“In 1890,” says Nicholas Ciotola, the museum’s curator of cultural history, “we know that Ferris was in Atlantic City and rode on Somers’s ‘roundabout.’ Somers sued Ferris, eventually settled in court, and Ferris went bankrupt.”

The exhibit marks the first reunion in more than a century of four magnificent vases created by the Trenton Pottery company for the 1904 St. Louis fair. Additionally, the famed Baseball Vase, created by ceramicist/sculptor Isaac Broome for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, is reunited with its identical twin. Also shown are photos of the replicas of historic buildings (such as the Old Barracks, back in 1758 the biggest building in Trenton) that New Jersey built for the fairs.

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