The Great Exhibition

Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace

The Great Exhibition ( London German industrial exhibition, 1851) was an industrial exhibition, which was held from May 1 to October 11, 1851 in Hyde Park in London. The exhibition area was 10.5 hectares. The official closing ceremony was held on October 15.

28 countries with a total of 17,062 exhibitors attended the exhibition. Due to the high international participation, the exhibition was soon referred to as the World's Fair. On this first World Exhibition industrial goods and craft products of all kinds, machinery and production methods have been shown but also minerals and fine arts. As new products were, inter alia, the telegraph and the first plastic chair made ​​of vulcanized rubber presented.


The Great Exhibition of 1851 goes back to an initiative of the British Royal Society of Arts, which wanted to organize an exhibition similar to the French industrial exhibition. Henry Cole submitted a proposal Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria and president of the Society of Arts, who took up the project. When the project was presented to the public in 1849, the echo among British industrialists and businessmen was positive. They saw the exhibition as an ideal platform to promote global free trade.

Organization and management were incumbent a 24-member committee, known as the Royal Commission, which was officially appointed by the Queen, what the project also gave state authority. In contrast, the funding was - just as it corresponded to the principles of economic liberalism - purely private. The police used to protect the exhibition were paid by the organizers.

Crystal Palace

The landmark of the first World's Fair was the exhibition building itself, the exhibition would be almost failed in the election of the building. The building committee had prior to the exhibition found none of the designs submitted about 250 for good, opting for his own. The Commission's draft was massive and monumental and caused great indignation in the publication, because such a building does not fit in Hyde Park, causing high costs and be realized in the time remaining barely leave. The criticism of the world exhibition, which had already been present before, lived on again. On July 4, 1850 was debated in parliament whether the exhibition would be held at all. The Royal Commission set up by the argument that a shift is bad for the national honor. Moreover, appeared around the same time on a new design for an exhibition building, which had overcome the disadvantages of the Commission proposal.

Joseph Paxton, the architect had experience as a garden with greenhouses, submitted a design in the style of cast iron architecture made ​​entirely of glass and cast iron, which was built by Charles Fox in only 17 weeks out of prefabricated components. The Crystal Palace, as the greenhouse -like building was baptized by London newspapers soon was 563 m long and 124 m wide. Originally the building was designed with a flat roof. The characteristic barrel vaults over the transept, the transept of the building, was added later. This was due to some old elm that stood on the planned exhibition grounds and should be spared from deforestation.

Basic unit of the palace were squares of side length 24 feet ( about 7.3 m). The base consisted of 77 x 17 such basic units. The division of the exhibition spaces reflected in these units. The rooms consist of a multiple of basic units. In total, more than 1600 such squares were available, which corresponded to an area of ​​about 80,000 square meters.

After the exhibition, the building was stopped up with some changes in Sydenham again and used as a museum. 1936 burned down the Crystal Palace.

Participating countries and exhibitors

Industrial exhibitions there had been even earlier, they had up to that point but rather national character such as the French industrial exhibitions since 1798. In contrast, the Great Exhibition was planned from the beginning as an international exhibition. At the exhibition, 94 countries, including sovereign states such as England, France, Belgium and Switzerland, but also dependent territories such as India, Algeria, Ceylon etc. Individually were counted and the British Channel Islands and the individual German states involved, although some of them at the exhibition at the Zollverein presented together. More than half of the building ( including almost the entire west wing and transept ) was the British Empire reserved. From Great Britain, Ireland and the British colonies were almost 8500 exhibitors, about as many as combined from all other countries.

It was shown exhibits from the four categories of machinery, raw materials, manufactured and visual arts. Particular emphasis was the machine, not least because Britain was a leader in this field, but also new inventions such as an inflatable boat or small craft products took an important place.