1828, 1831, 1845, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1855 New York US – American Institute Fair (series)

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1828, 1831, 1845, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1855 New York

Name:American Institute Fair (series)
Dates:October – 1828/9, 1831, 1845, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1855 … to 1897
Venue:Niblo’s Garden, Broadway, New York,
from 1853 it moved to the NY Crystal Palace
Theme:A juried fair that focused on advances and developments in a variety of product categories, and rapidly became the venue for launches
Exhibitors:346 (1831); 2,000 (1850)
Visitors:At its peak 30,000 (1845)
Legacy:The fact that these fairs were held annually for seventy years suggests it was profitable.

The 1828 Fair is considered to have been the first World’s Fair in the USA.

The American Institute of the City of New York, founded in Feb 1828, it was chartered in 1829. It was more fully known as the American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention. It was founded to encourage American inventions, promote government policies and encourage domestic agriculture and industry. It became an association of inventors that regularly organised exhibitions, lecture series and radio broadcasts to inform the public and to lobby government. It promoted the idea of protectionism and government spending on infrastructure. In the 1980s it merged with the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS).

It set out to encourage and promote local industry within four sectors – agriculture, commerce, manufacturing and the Arts. It did this by running an annual fair which awarded prizes to artisans and inventors. It also lobbied government to encourage and protect its members. For example, it supported the notion of tariffs to protect local industries. Its fairs were usually opened with lectures on the political economy.

Its first fair was held in October 1828 (some suggest it was 1829), at Niblo’s Garden, a Broadway Theatre. This was named for the coffeehouse proprietor and caterer William Niblo, the fair was held just eight months after its founding. The exhibitors were largely from NY City and NY State, but some were attracted from New Jersey and New England. Despite this, some implausibly suggest these were the first US-based World Fairs.

The fairs missed some years for a variety of reasons but the series ran between1828 and 1897. They featured machinery, products and notions in agriculture and manufacturing, these were demonstrated to the public while the exhibitors vied for awards and premiums.

In 1828 there was no category for precious metals yet Marquand & Bros were awarded a ‘premium’ for its silver dinnerware, and Gale & Moseley for its silver cutlery.

Niblo’s Garden exterior,
a Broadway NY coffee-house

By 1831 the Fair attracted 346 entrants and had become a regular must-attend event, By 1845 it was hosting 30,000 visitors. During the 1846 fair at Niblo’s Garden, this venue was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, becoming a fashionable theatre for vaudeville and farces, until demolished in 1895.

American Institute Hall

The Institute had established a statistical library in 1833 by 1839 it had 4,000 titles.

P T Barnum’s first venture into show business was also at Niblo’s, 1835.

Niblo’s Garden interior in 1845

The 23rd Institute Fair in 1850 attracted 2,000 entrants and it was drawing exhibitors from the mid-Atlantic states and from the South and West. Its goal was to drive cottage industries to become larger commercial enterprises. Its political activity continued supporting tariffs, it assisted in drafting patent laws and rules for bankruptcies and was very active in developing a domestic silk industry.

New York Crystal Palace alight, 1858

While the 1858 Fair was being held at the NY Crystal Palace it caught fire. Within fifteen minutes its dome
had collapsed and in twenty-five minutes the entire structure was burned to the ground. No lives were lost
but property loss summed to more than $350,000 – the building at $125,000, plus the exhibits and statuary
that had remained there since the 1853 World’s Fair.

In 1905 the New Internatianal Encyclopediadescribed the Institute thus:

The institute was founded on February 18, 1828, and its American Institute fairs attracted wide attention from investors and capitalists. Among the inventions which received early recognition from the institute were the McCormick reaper, the sewing machine, Colt’s fire-arms, the type revolving and double power printing press machines, the first anthracite coal burning stove, the Morse telegraph, the Beach Pneumatic Transit, the stocking loom, the telephone, and the Francis metallic lifeboat and lifesaving appliances. In the early 20th century, the American Institute was organized as five sections: The Farmers’ Club, the Henry Electrical Society, the Horticultural Section, the Photographic Section, and the Polytechnic Section. It had a scientific library of over 15,000 volumes.

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