05/12/2022

1853 New York US – Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations

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1853 New York

Name:Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations
Dates:14 Jul – 14 Nov
Days:119 days
Venue:New York ‘Crystal Palace’, 42nd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues – today’s Bryant Park
Theme:To display new industrial achievements of the world, and create nationalistic pride of the relatively young nation
Exhibitors:4,800 within thirty categories and four divisions ‘A’ for the USA, ‘B’ UK/Ireland, ‘C’ for Belgium, France and Germany and ‘D’ for the rest of the world
Awards:
Visitors:1,100,000 – prompting NY hotel building/tourism
Legacy:NY City gave a five-year rent-free lease of the site, provided admission was no more than 50c. The show made a loss of $300,000

The American Institute Fairs continued from 1851 (24th in series) to 1897, but when they moved into the New York Crystal Palace as it opened in 1853, the event was renamed as ‘Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York City’. This venue was established as a direct result of the success of Britain’s Great Exhibition. It was to demonstrate new industrial concepts and techniques and to develop some nationalistic fervour for the USA.

Significantly the city gave a rent-free lease of Reservoir Square (an undeveloped four-acre site, today’s Bryant Park) to the event company for five years, provided it was constructed of glass and iron, and that admission would not be set at more than 50 cents. A US Congress Act declared the building as a bonded warehouse, so that foreign goods could be imported to it free of duty.

Jacob A Westervelt, Mayor of NY (ship-builder and President of the Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen) was the exhibition’s president, Admiral Du Pont was its general superintendent.

The New York ‘Crystal Palace’

The NY ‘Crystal Palace’ was a custom-built building, a Greek cruciform 365 ft (111m) long each way, and 150 ft (46m) wide with a 123 ft (37m) high and 100 ft (30m) diameter translucent glass dome at the centre. On one side another building, 450 ft (137m) long and 75 ft 23m) wide, was erected for machinery. The dome was claimed as the very first erected in the United States. The dome’s glass used a process to reduce the heat entering while maintaining the light and louvres ventilated it.

Triangular single-floor areas (24 ft high) were created between the projections of the cross to enable more exhibition space. The whole therefore had an octagonal floorplan. 16 cast-iron semi-circular arches and 190 cast-iron columns supported the structure.

The American poet, Walt Whitman wrote ‘The Song of the Exposition ‘…a Palace, Lofter, fairer, ampler than any yet, Earth’s modern wonder, History’s Seven out stripping, High rising tier on tier, with glass and iron facades, Gladdening the sun and sky – enhued in the cheerfulest hues, Bronze, lilac, robin’s-egg, marine and crimson, Over whose golden roof shall flaunt, beneath thy banner, Freedom.

It was opened by newly sworn President Franklin Pierce. It ran during the term of Jacob A Westervelt’s mayoralty of New York City. Westervelt was a shipbuilder and the President of the Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. Westervelt bcame the event’s President and opened it in the presence of US President Franklin Pierce, Northerner Pierce supported slavery and is often cited as among the worst US Presidents.

Internal view of NY exhibits

The event ran from 14Jul-14Nov, 119 days. 4,800 exhibitors displayed within thirty classifications presenting artworks, consumer merchandise and industrial products and processes. There were four divisions – ‘A’ was for the USA, ‘B’ for the UK and Ireland, ‘C’ for Belgium, France and Germany and ‘D’ for the rest of the world. Over 1,000,000 people visited prompting a spate of hotel building and a tourism boom. The attendance waned later in the year leading to the event president’s resignation and his replacement by the showman Phineas T Barnum. However, the show made a loss of $300,000.

A major feature was the wood-built Latting Observatory that offered a panoramic view of Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey. At 315 ft (96m) it was the tallest structure in New York City, until it burnt down in 1856.

Appropriately one of the most interesting exhibits was the safety device that Elisha Otis, a former bedframe mechanic, demonstrated for elevators, The device would operate if the elevator’s rope hoist should break. This feature popularised the idea of elevators. Otis had founded the Otis Elevator Co the previous year, prototyping his safety feature on his own factory elevator. He had sold only three devices before he made a big splash at the Crystal Palace World’s Fair.

Otis demonstration

The display had Elisha Otis standing in a cage as he deliberately cut the only rope that suspended it. The cage dropped a few inches but the safety brake then stopped it from falling to the ground. Otis sold seven more elevators that year and fifteen the next. On 23Mar1857 Otis installed the first passenger elevator in the United States in the E V Haughwout New York City department store, located at 488 Broadway and Broome, in today’s SoHo district. By 1873, some 2,000 Otis elevators were in use and the company was used for the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building

Stronger steels arrived some twenty years later to enable Manhattan’s sky-scraping skyline and these were facilitated by safe elevators. In 1967 Otis Elevator installed all 255 elevators and 71 escalators in the ill-fated World Trade Center. In 2010 the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, carries passengers up 2,000 ft at 40mph  – that is ninety times faster than the Otis 1857 elevator at the Haughwout Building. Millions of elevators are in use today and there have been only twenty to thirty reported elevator-related deaths.

David Alter

Not quite as evidently world-changing was a manufacturing process that would purify bromine from salt wells, but this was of great significance to the iron industry. Its inventor David Alter is also credited with inventing an electric telegraph in 1836 prior to the Morse version developed a year later. He also launched an electric buggy in 1840, one of many precursors to the automobile. Among other development Alter would invent a short-range telephone, before Bell, and an electric clock.

The event’s success was somewhat curtailed by the Dublin event happening at the same time, The NY event was late in opening and it was not assisted by being at a distance from the city centre with no special transport for access.

The building cost $540,000, fitting it out a further $100,000, with receipts of $340,000. The event was reopened in 1854 incurring another $200,000 in costs which exhausted the company’s $500,000 capitalisation and several loans.

The building was used for a variety of other purposes, which included staging the American Institute Fairs that were moved from Niblo’s Garden. But on 5 Oct 1858 the building had a fire damaging the construction and destroying all the contents.

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