This first century of trade exhibitions and world fairs was largely based on initiatives by governments (national, regional or local), or associations (art societies, mechanics’ institutes) though many were driven to succeed by an individual or small team.
We have seen that while the 1851 Great Exhibition in London was a major step forward it was by no means the first. Just as the French proved significant in diplomacy, philosophy and mathematics, it must surely be their series of eleven expositions that established exhibitions as a cultural and industrial activity. What is truly remarkable is that these French events were born not because of the Enlightenment, but to serve a pragmatic need to refresh post-revolutionary commercial activity, and that the momentum for them was sustained through a number of dramatic regime changes.
This century saw the growth of national identities and political systems, of new legal codifications, of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the establishment of business, accounting and statistical systems, the globalisation of trade, the coming of age of sciences and technologies, the development of mass media, new systems of patronage and government support through new social structures, and a growing awareness of rights and demands for suffrage and independence.
These early events encountered, and experimented with, all the issues that remain inherent in the industry today: attracting local, national and international exhibitors; freight, marshalling and customs; invited or public audiences; custom-built and temporary venues; various forms of funding and sponsorship; different sorts of organising structures; celebrity openings and keynote addresses; special features, entertainments and amusements; co-located events to drive audiences; special excursion deals with trams and railways; free or chargeable admissions; pre-publicity campaigns, posters and showguides; dubious visitor statistics; water-features; pillars; fires…
…Volume 2: 1860-1960 will be completed shortly.