On May 31, on his Agenda 47 webpage, Donald Trump released a new video titled “Celebration of 250 Years of American Independence at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.” In that video, Trump proposes to create a year-long “Salute to America”—to honor the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
On Day 1 of his second term as President, Trump will convene a White House task force, he announces, which will be “responsible for coordinating with state and local governments to ensure not just one day of celebration, but an entire year of festivities across the nation starting on Memorial Day 2025 and continuing through July 4th, 2026.” He continues, “I will work with all 50 Governors, Republican and Democrat alike, to create the Great American State Fair, a unique one-year exhibition featuring pavilions from all fifty states. It’ll be something. The Great American State Fair will showcase the glory of every state in the Union, promote pride in our history, and put forth innovative visions for America’s future.”
He will ask the “amazing people of Iowa” to open up the legendary Iowa state fairgrounds to host the Great American State Fair, with the aim of welcoming “millions and millions of visitors from around the world to the heartland of America.” He promises that “as President, I will invite the leaders and citizens of nations around the world to visit the United States in honor of our 250th anniversary. It’s going to be great.”
Who We Are
Much has been discussed of Donald Trump’s policies—what he accomplished as President and the economic and energy policies he has put forward in his Agenda 47—but, in truth, his greatest and most courageous achievement has been to remind us, the people of America, who we are. What our Republic truly is. He has made himself the personal rallying point for the Principles of 1776, and by doing this he has incurred the vicious hatred of America’s enemies and the America-haters within our own midst. This has been Trump’s mission since he came down the famous escalator in 2015: —to rescue America, to revive within the hearts of her citizens a love for their country—its principles, its intention, and its heritage.
At Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2020, President Trump said this:
“Our Founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity. . .. It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: ‘all men are created equal’. . .. 1776 represented the culmination of thousands of years of western civilization and the triumph not only of spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason.”
In his Salute to America proposal, Trump notes that he “will sign an Executive Order to bring back our National Garden of American Heroes, which we want to build very badly, and commission artists for the first one hundred statues to populate this new statuary park honoring the greatest Americans of all time.” He will “ask America’s great religious communities to pray for our nation and our people as we prepare for this momentous occasion. From the very beginning, America has been a country sustained and strengthened by prayer and by our communities of faith. As we chart a course toward the next 250 years, let us come together and rededicate ourselves as one nation under God.”
America’s First Centennial Celebration
In his May 31 video, Trump announces that one of the key objectives of Salute to America will be to “put forth innovative visions for America's future.” With that injunction in mind, what is offered here, by this author, is a proposal to the members of the task force that Trump will appoint to organize the events of America’s 250th birthday. It is a request that those who will be tasked to organize the 2025-2026 festivities first begin by studying the celebration that was held in 1876, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
That event is known today as the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, although at the time its official title was the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and Products of the Soil and Mine. Although the exhibition did not run for the full year that Trump is proposing for 2025-2026, its doors were open for a full six months, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, with a special celebration on July 4th. 186,272 people attended the Exposition on the first day, and over the course of six months, close to 10 million people traveled to Philadelphia for the celebration (this would be the equivalent of 70 million today). Attendance peaked on September 28, when 275,000 visited the Exhibition on a single day.
At first most of the attendees came from the Northeast, but by autumn, hundreds of thousands arrived by rail and steamboat from all over the nation, including Texas, Florida, California, and Oregon. An estimated 22,917 trains would ultimately carry millions of passengers to the Exposition. Nothing like it had ever been witnessed before.
What the organizers of the Exposition consciously set out to do was to demonstrate what a free people can accomplish in advancing the human condition. No longer shackled by the oligarchical systems of Europe, free people were able to think, to invent, to act—to consciously and deliberately create a better future.
The Transcontinental Railroad had been completed only seven years earlier, in 1869, but this stupendous accomplishment was only the tip of the iceberg in the economic advancement that was unfolding. In the fourteen years leading up to the 1876 Exposition, Abraham Lincoln’s Greenback Policy had been in effect. Lincoln’s National Banking System had also been operational since 1863, and high tariffs had been in effect since the passage of the Morrill Tariff in 1861. These American System policies of National Credit and Protectionism had created the greatest industrial and scientific revolution—and the greatest advancement in human productivity—in human history.
Grant sets the Stage
On May 10, President Ulysses Grant opened the Exposition with the following remarks:
“My countrymen – It has been thought appropriate upon this Centennial occasion to bring together in Philadelphia, for popular inspection, specimens of our attainments in the industrial and fine arts, and in literature, science, and philosophy, as well as in the great business of agriculture and of commerce. That we may the more thoroughly appreciate the excellencies and deficiencies of our achievements, and also give emphatic expression to our earnest desire to cultivate the friendship of our fellow-members of this great family of nations, the enlightened agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing people of the world have been invited to send hither corresponding specimens of their skill to exhibit on equal terms in friendly competition with our own. . . .
“One hundred years ago our country was new and but partially settled. Our necessities have compelled us to chiefly expend our means and time in felling forests, subduing prairies, building dwellings, factories, ships, docks, warehouses, roads, canals, machinery, etc. etc. Most of our schools, churches, libraries, and asylums have been established within a hundred years. Burdened by these great primal works of necessity, which could not be delayed, we have done what this Exhibition will show in the direction of rivaling older and more advanced nations in law, medicine, and theology, in science, literature, philosophy, and the fine arts. Whilst proud of what we have done, we regret that we have not done more. Our achievements have been great enough, however, to make it easy for our people to acknowledge superior merit wherever found.
“And now, fellow-citizens, I hope a careful examination of what is about to be exhibited to you will not only inspire you with a profound respect for the skill and taste of our friends from other nations, but also satisfy you with the attainments made by our own people during the past one hundred years. . .”
At the Exposition
The grounds of the Exposition contained five major buildings: the Main Exhibition Building, Memorial Hall (Art Gallery), Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall.
- The Main Exhibition Building was the largest. At 1,880 feet in length, it was longer than 6 football fields, and it occupied 21 acres. It was the largest building in the world. The sheer number of displays (more than 30,000 businesses exhibited) was staggering.
- Machinery Hall was the second largest structure. It was 1,402 ft long, 360 ft wide and occupied 558,440 square feet. Every conceivable type of machinery and tool was on display, most making their first appearance. It was a showcase for state-of-the-art industrial technology.
- Memorial Hall was devoted entirely to the arts and designed as a permanent art museum, while Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall were each devoted to the creative and scientific breakthroughs related to their specific fields, again with thousands of exhibits.
In addition to the main halls, there were over 250 other buildings, with the total Exposition covering 285 acres, larger than today’s New York Botanical Garden.
The Exhibition was an international affair, and almost 50 nations had their own pavilions, including Brazil, Japan, Sweden, Chile, Turkey, Spain, Great Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Portugal. Almost two-thirds of the individual U.S. states also had their own exhibits, and individual “state days” were organized to celebrate what each state had contributed to the Union.
The most impressive building on the fairgrounds was Machinery Hall. The huge glass and iron structure contained miles of overhead belts and pulleys for driving steam-powered line shafts. There were 8,000 operating machines in the 14-acre building. These were all powered by the 1,400-horsepower Corliss steam engine, built by the George H. Corliss Co. of Providence, R.I. The 70-foot-tall machine weighed more than 650 tons and was the largest steam engine ever built.
An anonymous participant at the Exposition expressed this view upon seeing the Corliss Engine:
“The Corliss Engine was the centerpiece of the 1876 Exhibition. Its gigantic size and power had an awesome impact, not only on those who viewed its operation in person, but, like the thunderous earth-shaking eruption of Krakatoa, it pronounced the ascendancy of the United States of America to the position of being the world’s leading industrial power. It was the figurative and literal representation of the success of the American System of political economy. It was the dawning of a new era where the reliance on the brutish muscle-power of human beings and animals would be replaced by the inventions of the mind.”
Another center of attention was the 30-foot-tall, completed arm and hand bearing the “torch of liberty.” At the completion of the Centennial Exposition, it would be shipped to New York to complete the construction of the Statue of Liberty. The world’s first monorail—the Centennial Monorail—was also built for the Exposition, with a steam locomotive and passenger cars traveling from building to building.
Thousands of new inventions were showcased, many of which the inventors had rushed to complete and then loaded on a railroad car or steamboat to take to Philadelphia. While celebrating America’s first 100 years, the Exhibition represented the dawn of a productive and prosperous future.
Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone was set up at opposite ends of Machinery Hall, amazing those who spoke over it. Thomas Edison's Quadruplex Telegraph, capable of transmitting four messages simultaneously over a single telegraph wire, won for him the Centennial Award for best new invention. Guests were allowed to try out the first Remington typewriter, and the Wallace-Farmer Electric Dynamo, the precursor to electric light, was operational, generating artificial daylight. The first internal combustion engine, invented by George Brayton, was also demonstrated. John A. Roebling & Sons Company displayed a slice of their 5 ¾ inch diameter cable to be used for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. This was a revolutionary cable, covered with Zinc and with a strength of 160,000 pounds per square inch. Baldwin Locomotives had a large exhibit featuring breakthrough designs in railroad technology. In the years following the Exposition, Baldwin locomotive engines would be shipped to China, Australia, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Advanced machine tools, air-powered tools (compressors and pumps), screw-cutting machines, grinding machines, metal-working tools, valves, wheels and axles, stoves, wagons, carriages, lanterns and sewing machines were on display. The Agricultural Hall featured new types of harvesters, reapers, and other agricultural equipment as well as new types of disease resistant, high yield crops. Even new consumer food products, such as Heinz ketchup, Hires root beer and popcorn were introduced to the public.
All these inventions and machines were displayed by the companies or individuals creating them. In a sense they were marketing their wares, and by the time the Exposition ended thousands of orders had been placed, including for the Corliss Steam Engine which was promptly purchased by the Pullman Company to power their main factory in Chicago. It was an explosion of American ingenuity. George Eastman and George Westinghouse both attended the Exposition, as did the father of Henry Ford. By 1880, only four years after the Centennial Exposition, more than 10,000 new U.S. patents were issued for a wide variety of machines and devices.
Henry Carey, the great American economist attended and offered his new pamphlet, Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization, Versus British Free Trade, (a.k.a., “Letters in Reply to the London Times”) to the public.
One foreign visitor to the Centennial Exhibition was the 29-year-old Dmitri Mendeleyev, later to become famous for his revolutionary work on the development of the “Periodic Table” of elements. Another was Emil Rathenau, who later formed a partnership with Thomas Edison and founded the Edison Electric Company in Germany, which illuminated Berlin and revolutionized German industry.
Honor the Past; Build the Future
Imagine the impact today if only a fraction of what was attempted at Philadelphia in 1876 were to become a primary theme for the 2026 national Salute to America. Trump proposes to invite thousands of high school athletes to compete in a series of Patriot Games, allowing “young Americans from every state to show off the best of American skill, sportsmanship, and competitive spirit.” This is laudable. But what if we were to add to this another invitation, one to tens of thousands of high school students to participate in a national Science Fair, to demonstrate their excellence in scientific investigations. Imagine the creative energies this might spark.
Similarly, coherent with the 1876 exhibitions at Machinery Hall, why not invite hundreds—if not thousands—of American companies and individual inventors and entrepreneurs to display and demonstrate their wares? Donald Trump has proposed to build 10 new cities, each of about 750,000 people, and to build these cities with the most advanced technology available. Would it not be educational and inspirational to present some of this work-in-progress to the American people in 2026? To show how we intend to build our nation into the future?
Other areas of important technological and manufacturing development might be presented, including 3-D printing, flying cars or “Advanced Urban Air Mobility,” the production of artificial human organs, quantum computing, photonics, robotics, low pressure tunnel and tube Maglev human transport at speeds faster than current jet aircraft, supersonic and hypersonic commercial passenger aircraft, and much more.
An entire pavilion could be devoted to the latest advancements in both compact and large-scale fission and fusion reactor systems.
Most important—it really deserves its own Hall—would be a multifaceted presentation, devoted to the exploration and settlement of our solar system, including efficient, reliable, and reusable transport to the surface of the Moon), as well as the challenge of settlement of both the Moon and Mars. Such exhibits could include offerings from major corporations, such as SpaceX, but also projects dreamed up by some of America’s high school young scientists.
The intention should be, as in 1876, to demonstrate to the citizenry what is possible, the future that can be built, in which all will have the opportunity to participate, all will benefit. Such is a fitting way to celebrate America’s 250th birthday.