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1893: Turner's Thesis

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Fredrick J. Turner Historian Frederick Jackson Turner believed that the strength and the vitality of the America identity lay in its land and vast frontier.

In 1893, Turner spoke at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, where millions of Americans had flocked to Chicago for this 1893 multi-month event to experience displays of new technologies, new products, and new tastes. In the pavilions and halls of the Exposition, the electric light bulb, the moveable sidewalk, the Ferris wheel, diet carbonated soda, and Cream of Wheat were a few of the many exciting things unveiled.

Amidst the excitement, Frederick Jackson Turner offered his listeners at a American historians seminar, a new idea. His thesis "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" mournfully proclaimed that the once vast American western frontier was closed. "American energy," Turner maintained, "will continually demand a wider field for its exercise."

World's Fair In a discussion of the Spanish-American War and the birth of U.S. imperialism, Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis is significant because it connects two important forces of the 1890s. By articulating the end of the American frontier and calling for new frontier abroad, Turner laid the intellectual groundwork for a new kind of U.S. foreign policy—one that led the United Stated into Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam during the Spanish-American War.


O'Toole, G.J.A., The Spanish War: An American Epic-1898. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1984.

Traxel, David. 1898: The Birth of the American Century. Alfred A. Knopf: New York,. 1998.

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