International Cotton Exposition

International Cotton Exposition (I.C.E) was a world's fair held in Atlanta, Georgia, from October 5 to December 31 of 1881. The location was along the Western & Atlantic Railroad tracks near the present-day King Plow Arts Center development in the West Midtown area. It planned to show the progress made since the city's destruction during the Battle of Atlanta and new developments in cotton production.

Placed a short train ride from downtown, it was designed so that the largest building could later be used as a cotton mill (see Exposition Cotton Mills). A quarter of a million people attended, generating between $220,000 and $250,000 in receipts, split evenly between sales and gate receipts.


The idea of holding such an exhibition in the South was first suggested by Edward Atkinson of New York, who in August 1880 wrote a letter to a New York journal discussing the great waste incident to the methods then in use in the gathering and handling of the cotton crop and suggested the exhibition, to bring all of those interested in the production of this great Southern staple for the purpose of improvement. The Atlanta Constitution republished the letter and urged the importance of some action in regard thereto.

A few weeks after the publication of this letter it was announced that Mr. Atkinson was about to make a Southern trip for the purpose of putting the suggestion into form. Mr. H. I. Kimball, being impressed with the importance of the enterprise and personally acquainted with Mr. Atkinson, invited him to Atlanta to address the people on the subject. This invitation Mr. Atkinson accepted, and at the solicitation of many prominent citizens of Atlanta he delivered, on October 28, 1880, an address in the state Senate chamber, in which he advocated Atlanta as the proper place in which to hold a cotton exhibition, such as would result in devising improved methods in the cultivation of the cotton as well as to be a stimulus to the entire industrial development of this section.

Early that November, James W. Nagle and J. W. Ryckman came to Atlanta to ascertain what action the citizens proposed to take in the matter. At their suggestion several preliminary meetings were held. A committee consisting of Governor A.H. Colquitt, Mayor W.L. Calhoun, ex-Governor R.B. Bullock, and J.W. Ryckman was appointed to prepare a plan for preliminary organization, which resulted in the formation of such an organization and the election of Senator Joseph E. Brown, president; Samuel M. Inman, treasurer; and Ryckman, secretary.


In February 1881, the chamber of commerce proposed and a corporation was organized under the general law, and a charter was obtained from the court. The Atlanta incorporators were those above plus R.F. Maddox, Benjamin E. Crane, Evan P. Howell, M.C. Kiser, Robert J. Lowry, Sidney Root, Campbell Wallace, J.F. Cummings, W.P. Inman, J.C. Peck, L.P. Grant, W.A. Moore, G.J. Foreacre, Richard Peters and E.P. Chamberlin. Associated with them were citizens of several other counties in Georigia and of the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Rhode Island and of London, England. Thus equipped the new enterprise commenced active operations.

At first it was only contemplated that the exposition should be confined to cotton and all pertaining thereto, in its culture, transportation, manufacture, etc. The capital stock of the corporation was originally fixed at $100,000 in shares of $100. As the work advanced, however, and as the country became interested in the subject, it was decided to open its doors for the admission of all products from every section, and the capital stock was therefore to $200,000. H.I Kimball was elected chairman of the 25 member executive committee whose mission was to raise the money.

It was believed if Atlanta subscribed one-third the amount required, other cities interested in the succedss of the enterprise would contribute the balance. A canvass of the city was made, and in one day the amount proportioned to Atlanta was secured. Mr. Kimball was authorized to visit Northern cities and endeavor to interest them in the undertaking. He visited New York and secured subscriptions to two hundred and fifty-three shares of stock ($25,300); Boston took sixty shares; Baltimore, forty-eight; Norfolk, VA buying twenty-five; Philadelphia, forty-three; Cincinnati, seventy-nine. The gratifying result of Mr. Kimball's work in the North and the apparent interest manifested by the whole country caused the executive committee to take immediate steps to put the whole work of organizing and conducting the enterprise in hand. Kimball was named director-general and CEO.

Construction begins

Contemporary rendering of the 1881 Exposition

Oglethorpe Park was selected as the site of the exposition. It belonged to the city and was located two and one half miles northwest from the railroad depot, and on the line of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. This park was originally laid out and improved under the direction of Mr. Kimball, in 1870 for the use of agricultural fairs, but the work of adapting the grounds and erecting the necessary buildings for the exposition was not an easy task. The work was begun under Mr. Kimball's direction and rapidly pushed to completion and made ready in ample time for the opening of the exposition.

The main building was constructed after a general model of a cotton factory, as suggested by Mr. Atkinson, the form being a Greek cross, the transept nearly half the length, the agricultural and carriage annexes extending along the southern side, and the mineral and woods department forming an annex at the extreme western end of the building. Its extreme length was seven hundred and twenty feet, the length of the transport four hundred feet, and the width of the arms ninety-six feet. The dimensions of the remaining principal buildings were as follows:

There were several other buildings, as the Florida building, press pavilion, police headquarters, etc., and quite a number of individuals or collective exhibitors erected buildings for themselves.


The exposition was opened on October 5, 1881, and the occasion formed a memorable day in the history of Atlanta. The event was attended by many governors, senators, and congressmen; and addresses were made by Kimball, Governor Colquitt, North Carolina Senator Z.B. Vance, and Indiana Senator D.W. Voorhees.

The exposition was a success in every way. The entire number of exhibits was 1,113, of which the Southern States contributed more than half; New England and Middle States, 341; Western States, 138; and foreign, 7. The gross receipts were $262,513, and the total disbursements $258,475. The average daily attendance was 3,816 for the seventy-six days it was open. The largest number of admissions on any one day occurred on December 7, Planters' Day, when there were 10,293.

The Exposition Cotton Mills were opened on the site in 1882 and remained in operation until 1969.[1]

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1902 book, Atlanta And Its Builders by Thomas H. Martin

See also



  1. Cook, p.42

Coordinates: 33°47′04″N 84°24′57″W / 33.784457°N 84.41574°W / 33.784457; -84.41574

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