What’s The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Got to do With Workplace Safety?

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was one of those iconic historic events, introducing many new marvels to the public including the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jacks, post cards, Pancake Mix (Aunt Jemima), the zipper, the first moving side walk, diesel engines, the dishwasher (KitchenAid), Cream of Wheat, chewing gum (Juicy Fruit) and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (the blue ribbon was won at the fair).

The other big event was the introduction of electricity, which made some of those other inventions possible. Electricity enabled the illumination and heating of homes and businesses, and the creation of large machines to do tasks never before possible.

But with those inventions came the reality of accidents causing burns, explosions, accidents and deaths, also at a scale never before possible. In 1894 an organization, Underwriter’s Laboratories, a.k.a. UL, was formed to create national safety standards for these new inventions. Twenty years later, as these technologies spread, the American Society of Safety Engineers and National Safety Council were formed to do the same.

As I noted in my last blog, the death rate from workplace accidents has decreased significantly in the last hundred years, but with thousands of deaths and millions of accidents still occurring each year, we’ve got plenty of work left to do.

The World’s Fair was a turning point in workplace safety, both in its cause and effect. By introducing new, powerful machines and technologies, the door was open to higher accident rates, shortly followed by organizations formed to combat them. The fact that all three organizations exist today testifies to the need they served back then, and still do.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Frank Kenna III
January 5, 2016

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