4.1 Paris, Exposition Publique des Produits de l’Industrie Francaise, 1798

© Bob Denton 2018
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See also 1798_Paris Exposition Publique data sheet

Progress was delayed for a year while the Marquis had himself removed from the revolution’s proscribed list. He was back to hold his event in the French Republic’s year VII, or 1798. It was held at Maison d’Orsay, 667, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris.

Various authorities claim that it was this event and its minor success that was the ‘first modern expo’. The criterion for this claim was that it was the first exhibition with an instructional rationale, but surely the RSA event in 1761 had this goal too?

This second event (though the first modern expo) was proposed by Neufchâteau to follow on from the celebrations of Napoléon ’s victories in Italy, which had led to highly lucrative plunder. Its objective might be translated as ‘to offer a panorama of the production of various branches of industry with a view to their emulation’. The Marquis d’Avèze appointed Jean-François Chalgrin as one of his design team. Chalgrin would later design the Arc de Triomphe.

Jean-François Chalgrin

The event was called L’Exposition Publique des Produits de l’Industrie Française (the Public Exhibition of French Industrial Products) and was staged on the Champ de Mars in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, on the very same spot of Napoléon ’s triumphant return from his Italian campaigns. It was also timed to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic.

Champ de Mars (today)

It was opened, following a grand procession, by Minister Neufchâteau who stated ‘The French have surprised Europe with the rapidity of their military exploits, and must advance with the same ardour on the paths of commerce…’ (Greenhalgh, 1988, p.5). Neufchâteau was also at pains to glorify the dignity of labour. Greenhalgh went on to describe ‘A plethora of activity filled the Champs de Mars; there were military parades, splendid halls, firework displays and dozens of official sideshows and stalls on the edge of the site. The strange combination of carnival and ceremony, of circus and museum, of popularism and elitism which typified the Expositions Universelles…’

1798 exhibition showing the Temple, the 68 porticos and (indistinctly) a Montgolfier balloon

It was held between the 17-21 September 1798 (some sources indicate it ran on until 1st October). At its heart was a ‘Temple of Industry’, which consisted of Doric columns around a statue of ‘Commerce’, this was planned to be the location where prize-winning exhibits would be shown.

Arrayed around the temple was a square formed by sixty-eight porticos or arcades holding 110 inventors and industrialists, most of the exhibitors from Paris and the Seine region. They presented a range of merchandise that, given the political environment, was bizarrely luxurious even aristocratic. These did include scientific equipment, printing equipment, surgical instruments, weapons and chemical products, but also furniture and marquetery, silks, leatherwear and textiles, china and glassware, clocks and watches…

The products were not offered for sale, given its ‘instructional’ objectives. Awards were based on that of the Academy of Art, to recognise the ‘engines’ or industrial ‘soldiers’ of the economy.

A committee, of nine distinguished men was drawn from the sciences and arts, from the Institut de France and from agricultural and mining societies. They issued twenty-five awards, twelve of these were gold. Prizewinners ranged from the publishers Didit and Herhan, Breguet clocks, a steel fabricator, inventors of a precision balance, Conté coloured crayons, an edition of Virgil and a Kutsch machine that sought to familiarise citizens with the new metric system that had, three years earlier, introduced metres, grams and litres (note: the Metric system was also promoted at the Paris 1867 exhibition and adopted as the global standard for science in 1875).

Breguet’s award-winning eight-day Metronome Clock

The winning entrants were displayed in the ‘Temple of Industry’ that was completed during the show. This placing of winners in a ‘temple’ harks back to the ‘Festival of the Supreme Being’, the citizens were being asked to ‘worship’ modern invention rather than ancient deities and relics.

Sketch of central exhibition area

The French government indicated an unhealthy obsession when in its call for prize entrants it prompted them to deliver products ‘comparable to those of British industry’. The jury declared ‘that the moment had come when France shall escape from servitude to the industry of her neighbours’.

Neufchâteau summarised at the end of the event, ‘this is but our first campaign, and it has been a campaign disastrous to the interests of English industry. Our manufactures are arsenals most fatal to the power of the British’. But Neufchâteau was removed from his ministerial role by the Directory in June 1799. By November Napoléon had terminated the Directory and formed a Consulate.

This launched a century of Franco-British exhibition ‘wars’, or more accurately competitions. Between 1801 and 1849 France, in its various forms, held ten Exposition Universelle, each new event launched with ever more ambition. London’s Great Exhibition seized the initiative for the squabble in 1851, in 1889 the Eiffel Tower was France’s effective riposte.

Constructon of the Tour Eiffel

© Bob Denton 2018
Forward to 4.2 Napoléonic events   –   Forward to European exhibitions
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