Friday, April 19, 2019

The Krupp Gun Pavilion at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition: The world's largest gun.

Friedrich "Fritz" Alfred Krupp
Friedrich Alfred Krupp (1854–1902) was known as the richest man in Germany at the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition and his estimated worth was over 125 million dollars ($3.6 Trillion dollars today) with a personal annual income of 10 million ($288 Million dollars today). The Friedrich Krupp cast steel company was started by his grandfather in 1811 in Essen Germany, passed to his father Alfred Krupp “The Canon King” and became his upon his father’s death in 1887. During this time the Krupp family was also the largest employer in Germany with an estimated 45,000 employees.

Friedrich Alfred Krupp was known as “Fritz” since the age of 14 and was nothing like his father and grandfather, at least not at first glance. While his father Alfred was known as a stern industrialist and actively involved in the political activities of Germany, Fritz was more interested in natural science, generosity, and suffered from asthma which was more than likely the result of growing up around the poor air quality which surrounded the steel making factories. At one point, his father had thought of disowning him and naming one of his nephews as heir but eventually, Fritz reluctantly gave in to the wishes of his father and took over when his father passed in 1887. While the Krupp empire was involved in many different aspects of metal manufacturing it was the tools of war, specifically the Krupp canons that made the Krupp name world-renowned.
NOTE: Two different companies. The "KRUPP Cast Steel Company" was founded in 1811. The "KRUPS Household Appliances Manufacturers" (today's coffee brewing machines) was started in 1846.
The 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition was the perfect venue to show off the metalworking prowess bearing the Krupp name and Krupp spent a good amount of his own money to do so.
The Krupp Gun Pavilion (also known as the Krupp Gun Exhibit) was impressive on its own. It was created to be somewhat of a cross between a fortress and the “Villa Hugel” which had been the Krupp family home since 1873. 

German architects decided to use timber and steel rather than the white plaster used for the majority of buildings in the White City. The style of the building was also unique; historical and regional forms were mixed so that the building as a whole embodied the entire German aesthetic.

The entrance hall was 138 feet long by 25 feet wide by 30 feet high while the main exhibit hall was 197 feet long by 82 feet wide by 43 feet high. It was located between the replica of the Convent La Rabida and the Leather Exhibit just south of the moving sidewalk and Casino Building. This area is currently occupied by the La Rabida Children’s Hospital. The structure cost Krupp upwards of 1.5 million dollars to erect and about the same amount to transport it to and from the fair. The pavilion housed both tools of war and peace but honestly, it was the big gun that drew the crowds.
The $1.5 million dollars Krupp Pavilion at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
Known as the largest canon in the world, the canon barrel weighed just over 240,000 pounds, was 46 feet long, 6.5 feet in diameter at the breech and the muzzle opening (the caliber of the gun was 16.54 inches). It was capable, according to a Krupp representative, of firing a 2,000-pound projectile over a distance of 13 miles (Krupp literature claimed only 5.5 miles). When using the shrapnel version of the 1-ton shell would explode 3400 steel balls weighing about a quarter-pound each. You definitely did not want to be on the receiving end of this piece of artillery. The gun cost Krupp about $200,000 to produce and $80,000 to transport to the U.S. At the end of the fair,  Krupp offered the gun to the U.S. military for a price of $223,000 including the turret and all mountings. The U.S. quickly rejected the offer due to the fact that they believed the gun too dangerous and too expensive to operate at $1,500 per shot.
Inside the main exhibit hall of the Krupp Pavilion showcasing both of the world's largest steel canons. It had been said that neither one worked well. 
There was also a rumor that Krupp was going to donate the gun to the City of Chicago and the city, in turn, was going to use it in a fort which was going to be placed opposite Hyde Park on five acres of “made” land which would have had a clear view of the lakefront from the Evanston lighthouse to Calumet Lake. That rumor was quickly proven to be false.

Aside from the spectacular guns, Krupp introduced the Expo crowds so something that they had not experienced before, indoor air-conditioning. People had often entertained the idea of cooling a building in warm temperatures much like heating a building in cool temperatures but up to this point had not seen such a device in actual service.
Krupp Gun Exhibit Building from across the water.
Krupp had two “Glacier Fountains,” as they were called, in the main exhibit hall on the northeast and southwest corners. He had used these types of cooling devices at his cast steelworks at Essen, Germany since 1890 and were designed and engineered there between 1884 and 1886 by Dr. William Raydt of Hanover. The fountains sprayed freshwater upward and over a series of copper “worms” or coils that contained salt water cooled to a point below freezing. As the water froze to the coils it created a block of ice that cooled more of the freshwater and subsequently the air surrounding the water which then dropped to the ground making more room for warm air and creating a circulating cooling effect. The refrigeration machine used to cool the water used carbonic acid and was designed and patented by Dr. Raydt. During the warm months of the fair, you could see people placing their hands close to the fountain to cool themselves in much the same way that you would see people trying to warm themselves next to a stove. One Columbian Guard who was stationed inside the exhibit near the fountains stated that because of the cold air he felt as if he was “going into consumption.”

Krupp was ahead of his time in how he treated his employees. Around the world, there was a growing distrust between employees and employers but Krupp was a leader in employee relations. He built entire colonies or towns for his employees. He provided them with family housing, bachelor housing, schools, libraries, parks, hospitals, and gymnasiums. He also created a pension fund for those who achieved 20 years of service, a disability pension fund for those hurt in the performance as “Kruppianers” as well as a fund for the widows and children of workers who had died. He also set up the predecessor of our 401(k) by having workers opt to invest 3% of their income and the company would match 100% of their contributions. Additionally, he paid for a retirement home for the elderly among the veteran “Kruppianers.” He did all this in order to create a sense of loyalty and family among his workforce. Oddly enough all of this benevolence toward his employees created contention between the Krupps and the Socialist Democratic Party which thrived and gained support based on vilifying big business which generally did not treat their employees well at all. This could have ultimately led to his undoing.

After the Expo ended,  Krupp dismantled his pavilion, and by the third week of March 1894, his “big gun” was on its way back to Germany by Steamer.
NOTE: I doubt the Krupp Pavilion was reconstructed in Germany. Most likely, the steel and other building materials that were saved were used for other purposes.
Krupp merged with Thyssen AG in 1999, creating ThyssenKrupp AG, a leading global manufacturer of steel, construction materials, automotive parts and assemblies, and industrial and mechanical services. ThyssenKrupp AG is also known to produce amusement and sports items such as sparklers (fireworks), bobsleds, and protective glass (polycarbonate) panels for ice hockey rinks, the firm’s main business sectors involve metal fabrication, mechanical engineering, and the production of elevator systems.

By Ray Johnson
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Great research! I wonder if the modern Thyssen-Krupp (a German company)is any relation. They bought and owned Waupaca Foundry in Wisconsin for a number of years. Great story, thank you!

  2. I am reading "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson and was so fascinated by the "big gun" that I started researching Fritz Krupp and his involvement in the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition and stumbled upon your journal. I must say - this article was an incredible read! So very interesting and it adds a great degree of background to the book I am reading. Thank you!

    1. "The Devil in the White City" is a historical novel. The chapters about the building of the World's Fair are historical, The chapters about H.H. Holmes is fictional.

      MY ARTICLE: "An in-depth look at H.H. Holmes, his murder castle, and his victims."


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