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February 24: Sol Bloom and the Chicago World’s Fair

February 24, 2011

Chicago was selected, on this date in 1890, to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, which would run between May and October, 1893. Among the many innovations introduced at the Exposition was “the Midway,” an area for amusements that was developed by Sol Bloom, 23, a music entrepreneur. Bloom’s “Midway Plaisance” included the first Ferris Wheel, 264-feet tall; belly dancing by “Little Egypt” and other Algerian dancers to a melody, “The Streets of Cairo” (street lyrics: “O they don't wear pants on the sunny side of France”), composed by Bloom; and the first commercial movie theater, where Eadweard Muybridge lectured on his moving pictures of animal locomotion. Sol Bloom went on to become a Congressional representative from New York, in charge of the George Washington Bicentennial in 1932 and the U.S. Constitution Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1937. He was a strong supporter of Zionism and a delegate to the founding convention of the United Nations in San Francisco. It was Bloom who penned the first words of the Preamble to the UN Charter, “We, the Peoples of the United Nations,” echoing the U.S. Constitution.

“As a matter of strict fact, the danse du ventre, while sensuous and exciting, was a masterpiece of rhythm and beauty; it was choreographed perfection and it was so recognized by even the most untutored spectators. Whatever they had hoped to see they were enchanted by the entertainment actually placed before them. . . . Almost at once this dance was imitated in amusement parks all over the country. As it became debased and vulgarized it began to acquire the reputation that survives today – that of a crude, suggestive dance known as ‘The Hootchy-Kootchy.’” —Sol Bloom