Everyone knows that Music Hall was built for choral singing, right? Well... it's partially correct. The center hall was built to accommodate choral singing, and also to accommodate expositions when used with the north and south halls, which were expressly built for industrial expositions. In fact Reuben R. Springer, the man credited with the idea of a ''musical hall'', had stated as much in a letter that kicked off the enterprise:
As a successful businessman, Mr. Springer knew that expositions were big business. Not only did they give manufacturers and retailers a way to show off goods and services, they were a form of entertainment -- people would come from miles around to spend the day, or more, at an exposition.
But the mere public announcement of the construction of a new Music Hall, to be erected where the old exposition building was standing, created quite both excitement and controversy in the city. Jealousies arose between those who favored the popular music festivals and those who felt the future of the city was best served by more and greater exposition space.
The newspapers, of course, had a field day! Letters appeared in the papers, each more bitter and caustic than the next. In one, a citizen wrote that ''We are a mechanical people, not a race of fiddlers.''
It looked for a while that the internal strife would seriously harm the city. Mr. Springer stepped in, acknowledged the beliefs and feelings of both groups, and offered $50,000 towards the construction of buildings around Music Hall for industrial expositions, provided $100,000 more were donated by other citizens. This was the same ''deal'' he had made to stimulate the construction of Music Hall.
The First Exposition in Cincinnati - and the Nation
1838. May 30, to be exact. That was the date that the first annual Fair of the Ohio Mechanics Institute was staged in Cincinnati. Actually, that was the first exposition ever held in the United States - in the nation's first permanent exhibition hall.
The Ohio Mechanics Institute was founded in 1828 to provide education and training for mechanics, a skilled-labor term that, at the time, encompassed blacksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters and others. OMI's 1838 ''Exhibit of Arts and Manufactures'' drew citizens from far and wide to look at industrial products. Maria Curro Kreppel, Professor Emerita of English and Communication, U.C.'s College of Applied Science, studied the history of OMI and says these fairs were started because ''the OMI directors were looking for ways to get more public attention to math and science and industrial topics.''
The Grand Expositions
Eighteen of the fairs were held before the Civil War. Then, after the war, OMI joined with the Chamber of Commerce and the new Board of Trade to hold expositions to try to jumpstart an economy that was hard hit by the war. In 1870, they held the first of the Grand Industrial Expositions at Saengerfest Halle, at 14th and Elm.
In an interview for the documentary Music Hall: Cincinnati Finds Its Voice, Kreppel described the expositions:
The Grand Expositions lasted 30 days and drew tens of thousands of people from the entire Midwest region. By 1872, 500,000 people attended. Dr. Kreppel describes the scene:
So by 1875, when discussions began about building Music Hall, the OMI directors were looking for a permanent building in which to hold these expositions. Despite the initial controversy, Reuben Springer was able to bring together the interests of the city fathers, the mechanics and others to get the north and south wings built in time for the 1879 Industrial Exhibition. Still, because of the size of the Grand Expositions, Music Hall wasn't the only structure, but it was the centerpiece.
The last of the Grand Industrial Expositions, held in 1888, was intended to showcase the entire region and celebrate the centennial of the Ohio Valley. Visitors were treated to an art gallery as well as industrial inventions of all kinds. The newest phenomenon was electrical lighting and exhibits everywhere featured electrical lighting displays. Says Kreppel:
Thomas Edison's company created an amazing display of one huge incandescent bulb, 30 feet high, using 150,000 light bulbs to create it. This provided a new opportunity for visitors, too, because, with electrical lights, they could view the grand outdoor exhibits at night.
The next exposition held at Music Hall was in 1928 to commemorate Music Hall's Golden Jubilee.
Conventions and Exhibitions Throughout the Years
In addition to the expositions, Music Hall served as the city's convention and exhibition center. One notable event was the Democratic national convention in 1880.
Auto shows, which began in 1917, were held for decades in Music Hall. ''Motor cars'' were often sold on the spot to buyers who traveled hundreds of miles to attend the program. Manufacturers used the auto expos to introduce new models to consumers.
Major renovations were made to Music Hall in 1927. The North Wing, which had been known as "Industrial" or "Power" hall, was converted into an arena for sporting events. The South Hall continued to be used for a variety of exhibitions, often in conjunction with the lobby and auditorium. The biggest shows expanded into the north hall.
Annual expos included the "Home Beautiful" show, started in 1925 by the Cincinnati Real Estate Board In 1929, a new feature was added: construction of a model home in the hall.