The World's Columbian Exposition, commemorating the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, was opened May 1, 1898, in Chicago. The exposition's 150 buildings of Greek, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles of architecture became known as the White City, and exhibited the talents of America's foremost architects and sculptors. Popularly known as the Chicago World's Fair, the exposition covered six hundred acres and brought exhibits from seventy-two countries. The architecture and landscaping had a powerful effect on the nation and were largely responsible for the City Beautiful movement, which sought to make American cities more attractive and livable through the planning of buildings and parks.
The 1891 Nebraska Legislature appropriated only $50,000 for a Nebraska exhibit at the exposition. That small amount did not go far in providing a suitable building to display the state's products and achievements. On July 3, 1893, The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln criticized both the building and Joseph Garneau, Jr., commissioner general of the Nebraska exhibit:
"The term 'crackerbox' [Garneau was an Omaha cracker manufacturer] that suggested itself to the first man who saw it, and will probably be repeated until the end of time, is a fairly good description of the low, square, white building, the ugliness of which is hardly relieved by a few Greek pillars and a gilded state seal. The porches are high and narrow and are usually covered with people sitting on the steps. There was once a time when the 'fresh paint' sign kept off all intruders, but now the paint is a thing of the past and even the boards themselves are fast wearing away because of the hard usage they receive." The largely agricultural exhibits within were said to have "seen their best days at the county fairs."
Fortunately, some criticism was less pointed. A previous article in the State Journal (June ll, 1893) remarked: "The latest epithet to be applied to the Nebraska building is that given by a Chicago newspaper which describes it as 'quaint.' This should remind the people who are condemning it as ugly that it is not always necessary to call things by their right names and that even if the above mentioned adjective is not correct from an architectural point of view it is more polite to use."