Studies in Midwestern History

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During the 1930s regional identities were especially pronounced as the ravages of the economic collapse encouraged the reevaluation of national, regional, and local identities, often linked with FDR’s appeal for unity and as a way to better understand and distribute the largesse of federal aid money that began filtering down to the people. There was considerable discussion about remaking the country along regional lines, creating what Edward Barrows called the “United Regions of America.” Given the complexity of modern society, “the reorganization” of the country was “inevitable” as a result of “natural, orderly social growth.” (See Edward M. Barrows, “United Regions of America: A New American Nation,” New Outlook 161 (May 1933), 17-21. Quotes from 17.)

Correspondingly, a series of six International Expositions or World’s Fairs took place between 1933 and 1939, beginning with the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago in 1933 and culminating at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, which outlined regional as well as national characteristics for each region’s identity within the United States. It is within this context that the Great Lakes Exposition (GLE) was held in Cleveland, Ohio during the summers of 1936 and 1937. This event, the brainchild of local business and civic leaders with the assistance of the federal government, was designed to highlight “the material, social and cultural progress which has been achieved in the Great Lakes Region in the past 100 years” and to “indicate the paths of progress for the future.” (See Great Lakes Exposition Official Souvenir Guide, Cleveland 1936, 1, 12-14, Pamphlets C873 and C874, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio.) With these goals in mind, the GLE sought to affirm and recast the region’s identity, and in doing so, outline its separation from its traditional Midwest label.

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