In 1894, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad publicist named Joseph Gladding Pangborn set out on an international survey of transportation modes across the world. He had been involved with a railroad exhibit at the Columbian Exposition the previous year, and he parlayed that experience into a grand World Tour that was paid for by the brand new Field Museum, which had an exhibit planned on the topic of transportation.

Pangborn's World Transportation Commission, which included Civil War vet and photographer William Henry Jackson, began in Tunis in 1894. The Commission traveled by train, boat, caravan, elephant, and tum-tum cart through the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Siberia, Australia, and New Zealand. They captured the regions' residents—rich and poor, natives and colonists—on the move in their own particular way.

When Pangborn and company returned, they brought with them a view of a world that would have seemed incredibly distant and exotic to a growing Chicago, a place still more than a century away from becoming today's global city.