Nebraska’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition Photos

Nebraska contributed an exhibit to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, but for decades had no photos documenting the exhibit. After a string of findings, an image resurfaced.

By Breanna Fanta, Editorial Assistant

In 1876 the United States held the Centennial International Exhibition in celebration of the centennial of its independence from Britain. Nebraska, the youngest state at the time, managed to fund and contribute an exhibit to the event. However for decades there was no photographic documentation of the exhibit. It wasn’t until a string of findings led to an image resurfacing.

Matthew G. Hansen, a Capitol Preservation Architect, shares his research journey in “Nebraska’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition Photos” in Nebraska History Magazine’s Summer 2021 issue.

In May of 2020, Hansen acquired a photograph labeled “University of Nebraska.” Captured was the University Hall: the first and, at the time, only building. It was one of many images produced by Virgil Homer Young for the Centennial Exhibition.

(Virgil H. Young’s photograph of University Hall. Matthew G. Hansen)

In researching Young, Hansen found a report by the Nebraska State Journal in 1876 detailing the collection of images taken for the event. The description sounded similar to an albumen print he had purchased of the University Hall.

Hansen grew curious about the exhibition and was led to a Nebraska History article from 1976 covering Nebraska’s exhibit. It stated that “no sketch or photograph of the Nebraska exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition has been found.”

Come March of 2021, Hansen found and purchased a photograph of the exhibit from the Centennial Photographic Company (CPC). As the official photographer of the event, the CPC were the only ones licensed to take and sell images from the exhibition.

(The Centennial Photographic Company showing Nebraska’s exhibit in Philadelphia. Matthew G. Hansen) 

The photo showed Nebraska’s exhibit inside the Agricultural Hall and matched a thorough description provided in a Grand Island Times article from 1876.

Nebraska’s exhibit was a large black walnut cabinet occupying 750 square feet. The glass cabinet fronts and open sacks presented grains, varying corn specimen, photographs of the university – like Young’s – and books describing Nebraska. On top was a “large framed motto” with the words “State of Nebraska, Youngest and Best” written in gold and black lettering. In the middle of the sign was an illustration of the Nebraskan “coat of arms.” A tower stood at each end presenting a variety of crop samples and other materials such as porcelain clay, peat, and wood pieces.

Hanging from the ceiling above was a large scarlet cloth banner that proudly read “Nebraska” sewn in bold white letters.


The entire article can be found in the Summer 2021 edition of the Nebraska History Magazine. Members receive four issues per year.

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Centennial Exhibition, University of Nebraska

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