The World's Columbian Exposition, a fair that celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World and offered some 26 million visitors a chance to see the first gasoline-powered car in the United States, closed in Chicago on Oct. 30, 1893.
Forty-six nations participated in the six-month exposition, held on more than 600 acres in Jackson Park that featured canals, lagoons and 200 buildings constructed for the event. Each state hosted its own pavilion.
The fair introduced Americans to all types of technological wonders -- the largest telescope at the time, a Liberty Bell made of fruit, an alternating-current power plant, the world's first moving sidewalk, a 46-foot-long cannon, a 1,500-pound Venus de Milo made of chocolate, even Juicy Fruit gum -- along with replicas of exotic places and a giant midway packed with carnival-style rides and games.
A 264-foot-tall Ferris wheel -- designed by engineer and bridge builder George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. -- was the centerpiece of the exposition. Each ride cost 50 cents.
But one attraction, the Daimler quadricycle, went largely unnoticed.
Four years earlier, the Universal Exposition in Paris featured an elaborate display of steam- and gasoline-powered vehicles, including the Serpollet-Peugeot steam tricar -- named for its three wheels and powered by a coke-burning boiler -- and a lightweight, gasoline-fueled, four-wheeled car built by a German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler.
The Chicago fair promised an even more impressive spectacle. The vast Transportation Building, designed by Louis Sullivan -- the father of skyscrapers and the father of modernism -- was jampacked wall to wall: Pack mules and horse-drawn carts were displayed next to bicycles and boats. Rows of massive American-built steam locomotives towered over everything else in the hall. Fair organizers seemed to believe that trains were the transportation of the future.
Most vehicles on display in Chicago were powered by steam or electricity.
The only American car on display was an electric vehicle displayed in the Electrical building rather than the Transportation hall. The exhibitor, Harold Sturgis, gave demonstration rides.
Daimler's quadricycle, the only internal-combustion vehicle on display, was tucked away in the corner of the Transportation Building. It was another of the wire-wheeled, tiller-steered, one-cylinder platform quadricycles that Daimler had introduced in 1889 at Paris.
It had a top of speed of 11 mph. The twin-cylinder V-engine spotlighted in Chicago was a pioneering development and the four-speed manual transmission became a model for later cars. And the Daimler design was a catalyst for the French car industry.
It was like nothing most Americans had ever seen and yet almost no one paid attention to it. Reporters barely mentioned the Daimler car and it wasn't even featured in the exhibition catalog.
"In 1893, the possibility of widespread automobile ownership was so fanciful that it occurred to only a handful of Americans, yet within 30 years it would be achieved," Peter Ling wrote in his 1992 book, America and the Automobile: Technology, Reform and Social Change. "As if forecasting the automobile's ambiguous role of corporate product and cherished medium of escape, there were automobiles in the exposition's halls as well as its Midway amusements."
Only a few noteworthy people noticed the quadricycle and studied it closely. One was a bicycle mechanic, Charles Duryea, who used the Daimler car as the inspiration for the four-wheeled, one-cylinder Motor Wagon that he built with his brother Frank. In 1896, the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. became the first U.S. company to mass-produce gasoline-powered vehicles.
Another admirer of the Daimler car in Chicago was Henry Ford, who returned to Dearborn, Mich., after the fair and built an internal-combustion quadricycle of his own. He called it his "gasoline buggy."
Ford drove his little car for the first time on July 4, 1896, and sold it that year for $200. Just a few years later, on his third try to launch a company, he incorporated the Ford Motor Co. and the era of mass automobile output was poised to gain traction.