1801 Paris FR – Exposition Publique (2nd)

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Napoléonic events

There can be little doubt that the notion of a World Fair was ignited by the ensuing series of ten French expositions (eleven if you include the 1798 event), organised to promote French agricultural and technological improvements. These industrial events were irregularly repeated through the first-half of the 19th century under ever-changing administrations; they usually ran in parallel with art exhibitions.

After the 1798 event the Directory was overthrown in 1799, with Napoléon assuming leadership as First Consul. Under Napoléon’s rule three expositions were organised (1801 [see below], 1802 and 1806) with the clear goal of advancing the interests of French industry and, hopefully, to the detriment of British industry.

There was also a thrust to refer to all the exposition exhibits as ‘art’, in order to raise the prestige of French manufacturing and industry. Of course, the Napoleonic Wars between 1803 and 1815 confused who might be prepared or able to participate as exhibitor or visitor.

1801, Paris

Name:Exposition publique des produits de l’industrie française (2nd)
Dates:19-24 September 1801
Venue:Cour du Louvre, the Louvre’s courtyard
Theme:Advancing the interests of French industry, and raising the perception of industrial products as works of art, all exhibits were described as art
Exhibitors:229 exhibitors drawn from 38 départements
Awards:80, including twelve gold, twenty silver and thirty bronze – prizewinners included velours, cashmeres, cottons, leather goods, furniture, a canal lock mechanism, clocks…
Visitors:No data
Legacy:The Jury proclaimed ‘This solemn and memorable exposition should calm all the worries about the future of our commerce.’

In 1800 Napoléon had been victorious against the Austrians at Marengo (in Piedmont Italy) and the treaty of Lunéville was about to be agreed with Britain. This second exposition was readily agreed between Minister of the Interior, Jean Chaptal, of Napoléon’s Consulate, he wrote to them ‘continental peace is assured […] we should hold another Exposition…’. François Chalgrin was again engaged on the organisation of the event.

1801 Cour du Louvre

It ran from 19-24 September at the Cour du Louvre (the Louvre courtyard). The venue selected as part of the effort to raise the perception of industrial products as works of art, it was also considered to be a secure location at the heart of the city.

There were 229 exhibitors drawn from thirty-eight French départements. Exhibits included: cottons, wools and textiles; carpets, porcelain and leatherwork; printing and agricultural machinery; minerals and alcoholic products. the thrust of the awards was was to promote agricultural and technological improvements. the ‘formal displays of French products would become a centrepiece for the new cult of Reason’ (Source: www.arthurchandler.com).

Prizes were awarded as twelve golds, twenty silvers and thirty bronze medals.

Berthoud award winner

A gold medal was awarded to Pierre-Louis Berthoud a French-Swiss horlogier and watchmaker, the next year he was appointed watchmaker mechanic of the French Navy on a salary of 1,000 francs pa. Two years after that he became watchmaker to the Observatory and the Bureau of Longitudes.

Prizes were offered to developments that could improve the techniques of spinning, combing, and carding of wool. These initiatives would help to create a strong French textile business.

The Jacquard Loom
Jacquard Loom – showing the
punched-card ‘programmer’

Jacquard Loom in use –
a threat to workers’ livelihoods?

Notably an early Jacquard punched-card loom for automating the production of brocades was on show, but won only a bronze award. Perhaps Jacquard was judged as worthy of only bronze for fears that that it would replace workers. His loom achieved notoriety at the Exposition, but when Jacquard returned to Lyon his life was regularly threatened, over the next five years. The Conseil des Prud’ hommes (Labour Court) of Lyon destroyed Jacquard’s machine in the town square, its iron sold on for scrap.

Fortunately for Jacquard, and for France, high-ranking officials in Paris recognized the value of his invention, and, by 1812, some 11,000 of his looms were in use around France. Its innovative use of a punched paper card often lists it as an early from of computing device – see PC Moments 004.

Night festival during the exhibition in the
Cour de Louvre in the year X (aka 1801),
anonymous work shown at the Musée Carnavalet

Napoléon and the other two consuls spent hours at the event, directly asking questions of exhibitors and boosting the morale of the industrialists. The government offered two cash awards (20,000 and 40,000 francs) for inventors of machines that might improve spinning, combing, and carding of wool.

After this first Napoléonic exposition closed, a special group was formed on 1 Nov 1801, for the purpose of encouraging and supporting French industry. Headed by Minister Chaptal, and included a number of distinguished members of the government, the society awarded prizes for new developments. Their idea was to award a prize to an invention as soon as it was perfected, and not wait until the next Exposition.

Napoléon was a shareholder himself, as was Chaptal. The society outlasted the Consulate, the Empire and the Emperor – by the mid-1830s the prizes were worth in excess of 200,000 francs.

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