Monday, May 01, 2006

The Great Exhibition - May 1, 1851

The Crystal Palace was the site of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, opening May 1, 1851 and running until October of that year. It was the brainchild of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Fairs had been held since 1756 all over the world to display the technological and artistic wonders of various coutries. The theme of the 1851 Exhibition was, obviously, industry and machinery, however one of my favorite tidbits is the inclusion of the Victorian idea of what Iguanodon looked like (not even close).

The building was a steel and glass strucure designed by Joseph Paxton with the help of Charles Fox and was designed and completed in only nine months. People would often pack a lunch and spend the entire day there, going through the exhibits. There were exhibits from all corners of the world including silk and surgical instruments and a penknife with eighty blades from Britain; part of a bridge, weapons and soap shaped like people from America; stuffed animals from Germany, the stuffed kittens reputedly being Queen Victoria's favorites.

In an amusing note to us in this day and age, one of the men in charge, Capt. Boscawen Ibbetson had to write a report on the usage of the new invention: the public toilet. He diligently recorded how many peple used them the entire time of the Exhibition. The highest usage was on Wednesday, October 8th, a week before the Exhibit closed. There were 11,171 visitors to the 'loo that day.

The Great Exhibition saw over 6 million visitors from all over the world. The profits from the fair were put into the purchase of land for the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Charlotte Bronte was one of the repeat visitors. She wrote in a letter:

"It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth - as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it thus, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect." - From Eyewitness To History: John Carey, p.324

Victoria & Albert Museum - Great Exhibition
University of Kansas - The Great Exhibition
Wikipedia - Great Exhibition
Wikipedia - Crystal Palace
The History Channel - Great Exhibition
Eyewitness To History; John Carey; 1987; Avon Books; NY, NY (a collection of first-hand accounts of events throughout history - one of my favorite books)


Peter Matthes said...

I guess everyone drank too much warm beer on Wednesday October 8th.

Shadowspun said...

LOL. From what I understand, the refreshments sold were tea and lemonade. Punch had a cartoon mocking a laborer ordering a pint but getting tea and cakes instead!

I thought the World's Fairs/Exhibitions were over with, but they have them every five years or so.