1936 Great Lakes Exposition, Credit Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Ohio Life

The Great Lakes Exposition Opens

On June 27, 1936, the city of Cleveland unveiled a vibrant exposition that drew millions of visitors to the lakefront during the course of its run.

Around 4 million visitors flocked to Cleveland during the summer of 1936 for a 100-day event that aimed to showcase the Great Lakes region’s contributions to the nation. The June 28, 1936, edition of the The Sandusky Register reported that President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially opened the Great Lakes Exposition the previous day by pressing a button in Washington D.C., while Moses Cleaveland descendant Marguerite Bacon cut the ribbon on-site. The exposition, which was staged on 135 acres along Lake Erie, included multiple exhibition halls, illuminated buildings and a 500-foot promenade. 

“You’ll follow the winding path on the high bank overlooking the waterfront till you come to Lakeside Exhibition Hall,” Helen Waterhouse reported for the June 25, 1936, edition of the Akron Beacon Journal. “Lakeside Exhibition Hall holds the dramatic central theme of this whole show. ‘The Romance of Iron and Steel’ is there in all its phases, from the mining of raw materials to the completion of finished steel and iron products.” 

An international city known as Streets of the World invited visitors to experience the traditional architecture, sights, sounds and tastes of more than 30 countries. Attendees passed through a re-created medieval castle that served as an entrance to Streets of the World’s 150 buildings spread out over 10 acres. Exposition workers wearing clothing native to each country helped complete the experience. 

“Seeking diversion and pleasure, one may choose the typical night life of almost any nationality,” the exposition’s official 25-cent souvenir guide promised. 

Those looking to sample ethnic fare could select from a variety of food and beverages, while Streets of the World shops sold keepsakes made by skilled artisans working in metal, glass, clay, leather, paper and fabric. 

The exposition returned for a second year the following summer, drawing an additional 3 million visitors during its May 29 through Sept. 15 run.