Crowd-Funding in the Civil War: Philadelphia and the Great Central Fair

Tuesday, 8/19/2014 12:30pm - Friday, 9/12/2014 5:30pm

Event Type

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
1300 Locust Street United States
Philadelphia, PA 19107

HSP will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Central Fair with a special document display exploring patriotic crowd-funding in Philadelphia during the Civil War. 

In the summer of 1864, Philadelphia hosted the Great Central Fair in what is now Logan Circle, positioning the city as a vital contributor to the Union war effort.

The civilian-led U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross founded in 1861, organized “sanitary fairs” across the Union to raise money for sick and wounded soldiers.

These civilian grassroots efforts allowed Philadelphians unable to participate directly in the war to support the Union cause: women, children, the elderly, and the infirm. 

The fair featured displays of art and relics, with vendors selling everything from waxed fruit to lingerie. Musicians and comedic acts performed while brewers battled summer thirsts. President Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward stopped by to sign copies of the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Raising over $1 million for the Union soldiers - over $14 million in today's money - the Great Central Fair was one of the grandest and most successful of these charitable bazaars.

Visitors to HSP will be able to view dozens of original items, including a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln and sold for $10 at the Fair.