1902 Encyclopedia > Exhibitions


EXHIBITIONS. National and International Exhibitions rnay be ranked among the most remarkable features in the industrial records of the world, and have taken their place as prominent instruments of civilization, for by their, means the diffusion of knowledge has been advanced and extended in the most wonderful manner.

It is to the Society of Arts that the credit is due of having originated national exhibitions. So far back as the year 1761 that body offered prizes for agricultural and other machines, and had an exhibition of these in its apartments. In 1798 France began a series of national expositions under the direction of Napoleon. The exhibitors at first numbered only 110, and a jury of nine was appointed to decide upon their merits. A gold medal was offered to the manufacturer who should deal the heaviest blow to English trade. The second exposition took place in 1801, and was so successful that the third was fixed to take place in 1802. Expositions were subsequently held in 1806, 1819, 1823, 1827, 1834, 1839, 1844, and in 1849, in which year there were 4494 exhibitors. This last was the conclusion of the purely national displays in France before the great London international exhibition of 1851. So exclusive were the French at that time that a proposal made for the representation of foreign products in 1849, was deemed by the minister of commerce to have emanated Irom the enemies of French industry.

Great Exhibition, London, 1851 (image)

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was held in an enormous structure of iron and glass known as The Crystal Palace that was built in Hyde Park, London

Image Source: Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (published in 1854).

In 1820 a series of exhibitions were opened in various cities of Austria, and national exhibitions were held at Vienna in 1835, 1839, and 1845, which last had 1865 exhibitors. In Germany there were national exhibitions at Berlin in 1822 and 1827, and in 1844 one with 3060 exhibitors. National exhibitions were held in Saxony between 1824 and 1845, in which last year there were 6013 exhibitors. Between 1837 and 1848 exhibitions were held at Lausanne, Berne, St Gall, and Zurich in Switzerland; between 1835 and 1850 at Brussels and Ghent in Belgium; between 1823 and 1844 at Stockholm in Sweden; between 1829 and 1849 at St Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw in Russia; between 1844 and 1849 at Lisbon in Portugal; between 1829 and 1855 in the kingdom of Sardinia; between 1827 and 1850 at Madrid; between 1828 and 1844 at New York and Washington in the United States.

In the United Kingdom industrial displays had to fight their way against much apathy and prejudice. In 1828 an exhibition was formed in London under the patronage of George IV., which dragged out an unfortunate existence till 1833, when it was consigned to oblivion as an unsuccessful bazaar. In Ireland exhibitions of native industry were held triennially in the rooms of the Royal Dublin Society, commencing in 1829. In 1845, however, an exhibition of manufactures held in Covent Garden, London, proved a great success; and in 1849 an exposition of industry was field at Birmingham, which was the most complete of any held till that time in the country.

After various proposals made by the Society of Arts betweea 1846 and 1849, it was held that the great object of an international exhibition of industry was more likely to be carried out than hitherto, and at last a royal commission was issued to take steps for an industrial exhibition to be held in 1851. The commissioners received a site of upwards of 18 acres in Hyde Park, and erected the building known as the "Crystal Palace," from the designs of Mr (afterwards Sir) Joseph Paxton. Its general plan was a parillelogram 1848 feet long by 408 feet wide. There was also a projection on the north side 936 feet long, the whole covering a space of 1,000,000 square feet. The exhib' tion had four great departments,—raw material, machinery, manufactures, fine arts,—which were subdivided into 30 classes; and this arrangement has been usually followed in the great exhiblitions since held. In allocating the space for the display of objects one-half was given to England and the colonies, the other half to foreign countries. The estimated value of the articles exhibited, excluding the famous Koh-i-noor diamond, was £1,781,929. This exhibition was opened on 1st May by Queen Victoria in person, and was closed on 11th October following, and the receipts exceeded the expenditure by a sum of £213,305. The building was afterwards removed to Sydenham, where it forms the main part of the present "Crystal Palace."

The success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 encouraged the repetition of similar displays all over the world, a list of which will be found in the table given below.

In 1855 the great Paris international exhibition was held, which was opened by the emperor of the French on 17th May. The buildings for this exhibition were of various kinds. There were the palais d’industrie, the palais des beaux arts, and the panorama; erections were afterwards added for agricultural implements, carriages, minor articles, &c. The main building, which was of stone, brick, and glass, was only 800 feet long by 350 feet wide. This exposition brought together an assemblage of objects in the industrial and fine arts such as had never been seen before. The distinguishing feature of the palais d’industrie was its collection of the works of living artists, while the London exhibition of 1851 was principally a display of manufactured goods. The exposition was closed on the 15th Nlovember, when the distribution of medals to about 12,000 exhibitors took place.

In 1862 the second great English international exhibition was held in London in an immense brick erection adjoining the gardens of the Horticultural Society at South Kensington. The building consisted of two vast domes of glass, 250 feet high and 60 feet in diameter, larger than the dome of St Peter’s, connected by a nave 800 feet long, 100 feet high, and 83 feet wide, with a closed roof lighted by a range of windows after the manner of the clerestory of a Gothic cathedral. The domes opened laterally into spacious transepts, and the nave into a wide central avenue and interminable side aisles and galleries roofed with glass. These apartments occupied 16 acres, but in addition there were two annexes which covered 7 _ acres. The ceremonial with which this exhibition was inaugurated on 1st May was the most imposing public pageant which had been seen in Britain for many years. The number of exhibitors in the industrial division was 26,348, besides 2305 in art, making in all 28,653. The fine art collection was very extensive, comprising 901 pieces of sculpture, 1275 engravings, 983 architectural designs, and no less than 3370 paintings. The classification of the objects was based upon that of 1851, and embraced 36 divisions, in addition to those of the fine arts.

In April 1867 a great international exposition universelle was opened in Paris in an immense oval building erected in the Champ de Mars. It was arranged in twelve concentric aisles, with a small open central garden. It covered, no less than 37 acres, and the total number of exhibitors was 42,000. It was intended to bring into notice all the resources which industry can create for satisfying the, requirements of mankind, and it was divided primarily into groups corresponding with the leading wants of the human family. A great feature was the display of actual examples of the styles of domestic and palatial architecture of most countries, even the tents of some of the nomad tribes, such as the Kirghis Tartars, Samoyeds, Bedouin Arabs, &c,, being exhibited. In addition, all kinds of civil and Military erections of general importance were represented.

In May 1873 an international exhibition was opened in the Imperial Park at Vienna. The building in which it was held was of enormous size, covering about 40 acres. The principal part of the edifice was a grand nave nearly 1000 yards long, in the midst of which rose a vast rotunda or dome of great height. In this part of the building objects of a trophy character were exhibited, and presented a coup d’oeil of surpassing grandeur. An immense number of prizes and diplomas were distributed, and the awards were shared by almost every nation in the world. This exhibition was closed in November 1873. It was not a success financially, there being a considerable deficit in the receipts. The building has been converted into a national museum.

In 1876, after five years of preparation, the great international exhibition of America, a centennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence, was opened in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, on the 10th of May. The main building was in the form of a parallelogram extending east and west, 1880 feet in length and 464 feet in width. Its central span, in which was situated the grand avenue, was 1832 feet long by 120 feet wide, being the longest of such a width ever introduced into an exhibition building. The greater portion of the structure was one story high, the interior height being 70 feet. In the centre were four square towers 120 feet high. The frame work was of iron, filled in with glass and wood; it covered 2002 acres. With the other buildings attached to the exhibition, a total space of 60 acres were covered. Besides the main building there were the machinery hall, the horticultural hall (built in a Moorish style), the agricultural hall, the memorial hall or art gallery, the Government building, covering about 2 acres, in which were illustrated the functions of the Government in time of peace and its resources as a war power. Besides these there were the women’s pavilion, the judges’ hall, and a great many smaller erections, including a Swedish schoolhouse, a timber-framed house somewhat in the style of the 16th century, which formed the headquarters of the British commission. A structure having the homely designation of "department of public comfort" was used as a place of rest and convenience. The total number of buildings within the inclosure was over 160, and their cost was £1,600,000. The number of exhibitors was 60,000, derived from 37 nations. The promenades in the main building were 25 miles in length.

In England, after the great displays of 1851 and 1862 a feeling began to gain ground that as the activity and ingenuity of manufacturers and designers were constantly directed to fresh efforts, universal expositions would attain such gigantic proportions as to become quite unmanageable. A resolution was therefore come to by the British commissioners, as trustees of the fund derived from the proceeds of the great exhibition of 1851, that the objects suitable for exhibition should be divided into groups, and that exhibitions of selections from these groups should be held at more frequent intervals. A plan was then arranged for a series of exhibitions of the fine arts, recent scientific inventions and discoveries, and two or three branches only of manufactures, providing at the same time for the representation of each distinct manufacture once in ten years. Exhibitions were accordingly held in, 1871, 1872, 1873, and 1874, but at last it was found that they lost the attractiveness of novelty, and failed to draw the multitude of sightseers who flocked, to the great exhibitions of 1851 and 1862.

Notwithstanding these views of the British commissioners, an Exposition Universelle on a great scale was opened in Paris, on 1st May 1878 by the President, Marshal MacMahon. It is expected to unite the civilized world, as the sciences are represented as well as the arts. The building, or Industrial Palace, is an enormous erection in the Champ de Mars, consisting of a series of rectangular galleries in which each. country has been allotted a division more or less important. Besides the main building, there are about a dozen annexes without the enceinte of the palace. Immediately across the Seine there is a second palace situated in the Trocadero, (so named from a Spanish fort in the harbour of Cadiz, captured in 1823), amidst orDamental gardens with cascades. This is devoted to the fine arts and music, and is to remain a permanent monument of the exhibition. It contains a music gallery even larger than the Albert Hall, London. The space occupied by the exhibition is about 140 English acres; and the total expense has been announced by the minister of commerce as about £1,800,000 sterling.

An international exhibition is proposed to be held in 1879 at Melbourne, a city which in 1851 was a town of but 20,000 inhabitants.

Of the London Great Exhibition of 1851 an official catalogue was published the same year in 4 vols. 8vo, and in 1852 a volume of reports by the juries on the subjects in the 30 classes into which the exhibition was divided, in royal 8vo. A sumptuous edition of this catalogue on large paper was printed, of which copies were presented to distinguished personages and public libraries. Of the exbibition of 1862 an illustrated catalogue was printed by the commissioners the same year in 4 vols. 8vo. Of the Paris exposition held in 1855 there was an official catalogue published the same year; and a Rapport sur l’Exposition Universelle (also published) was presented by Prince Napoleon to the emperor in 1857. Of the exposition of 1867 there was published in London the same year a translation from the proof-sheets of the French official catalogue. Of the Vienna exhibition of 1873 there was an official illustrated general catalogue, with a large number of reports of the juries, &c. Of the Philadelphia exhibition there was an official catalogue printed in four languages—English, French, German, and Spanish; a series of reports and awards under the different groups into which the exhibition was divided is now being published. Besides the general catalogues of the great international exhibitions, there have been published an immense number of catalogues. of the exhibits of the different countries at each, which are to be found available for reference in the South Kensington and other industrial museurns. Various beautifully illustrhted books, representing the works of art exhibited, have been published both in London and Paris; and one, Êtudes sur l’Exposition de 1878, intended to be a complete record of the progress made in all the arts up to the present date, is about to be issued under the direction of E. Lacroix.

The following table shows the statistics of the first six great international exhibitions :—


The following table shows the minor exhibitions which have been held in various parts of the world from 1852 to the present time (1878) :—


The above article was written by George Collins Levey, C.M.G.; London correspondent of the Melbourne Age; editor and proprietor of Melbourne Herald, 1863-68; editor of Melbourne Age, 1869-81; Secretary to Commissioners for Victoria at the Exhibitions to London, Paris, Vienna, Philadelphia, Melbourne, 1873, 1876, 1878, 1880-81; member of Board of Advice to Agent-General of Victoria; author of Handbook to Australasia and Australian Encyclopaedia.

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