Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) created the fountain for the 1876 International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The design was based on a model he had created in 1867. Bartholdi was also working on his design for the Statue of Liberty at the same time. The fountain, cast in Paris by A. Durenne, was painted to look like bronze and placed at a focal point near the main entrance of the Exhibition grounds in Fairmount Park.
At the close of the Exhibition, the fountain was purchased for $6,000 (half of its estimated value) by the United States government at the suggestion of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed the Capitol Grounds. It was moved to Washington, D.C., in 1877 and placed at the base of Capitol Hill near the center line of the Mall, on what was then the Botanic Garden grounds.
During the 1927 relocation of the Botanic Garden, the fountain was dismantled and stored. In 1932, it was re-erected in its present location. The park where the fountain stands was renamed in honor of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi in 1985.