Anniversaries Weren’t Always a Big Deal

Listen to the Story


The city of Columbus Ohio is approaching a rather big birthday. In rather short order we will be celebrating the birth of Columbus on February 14,1812 while we also celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War and the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.

It is a lot to keep track of – in a very short period of time.

But I have absolutely no doubt that we will all be able to do just that. After all, most Americans today seem to like a public party of one sort or another.

As we prepare to celebrate all of these various sesquicentennial and bicentennial events, it is easy to form an opinion that we must have been celebrating these sorts of anniversaries through most of our history.

In our society, couples who have been together for a long time take special pleasure in celebrating a Silver Anniversary at 25 years, a Golden Anniversary at fifty years and all sorts of other anniversaries in the other years. And since people do this as to their own lives, and the city is ready to celebrate its 200th birthday, the natural supposition would be that Columbus has celebrated its own anniversaries as well.

And of course that natural supposition would be wrong. In reality we have only been celebrating for about half of our history.

Looking back at the history of Columbus, one will soon discover that we did not celebrate the 25th, 50th, or 75th anniversaries of the city all that much at all. Then in 1912, Columbus had a long, elaborate and quite successful centennial celebration with parades, events, and exhibitions. In 1962, the city celebrated its sesquicentennial with more events and activities. And now we are preparing to spend much of 2012 with our bicentennial.

So what happened between 1812 and 1912 to turn Columbus into a celebratory kind of place?

In a few words – America came of age.

In 1876, the United States celebrated its Centennial with a grand exposition in Philadelphia patterned after European World’s Fairs like the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. Ohio participated in Philadelphia and what would eventually – after a few false starts – become the Ohio Historical Society came from the state’s efforts to have a nice exhibit at the Centennial.

The Centennial was an enormous success and soon there would be many more – the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, and Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 – to name just a few.

As a major center of transportation and trade, Columbus had its own history of holding big meetings – 250,000 Civil War Vets and their friends in 1888, the founding meetings of the American Federation of Labor and The United Mine Workers of America, and any number of political, business and social meetings and The Ohio State Fair.

So, when 1912 came around and the city was home to a State Constitutional Convention and the city’s centennial was at hand – it seemed like a very good idea indeed to do a little celebrating.

It was then and it still is.

Columbus will see a lot of Bicentennial projects in the next few years – including WOSU Public Media’s own Columbus Neighborhoods .

Also, the city’s bicentennial website .

I think you will find something to like as Columbus begins its biggest ever birthday party. I know I will.