The glass and metal building with ornamental domes was based on exposition buildings in London and New York and was designed to house annual displays of industrial manufactures.
The Exposition was opened to the public in September of 1872, and the receipts from the sales of tickets, and other sources that year was $175,402. The total expenditures on account of building and running the building was $345,927, leaving a deficit of $170,525 for the first year. The promoters of the enterprise were not discouraged and proceeded to improve the building and prepare for an exposition the next year.
It served a variety of other functions, as an Illinois National Guard armory, the first home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the site of national political conventions in 1880 and 1884. It was razed in 1892 to make way for the Art Institute for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.