1873, Vienna AT – Weltaustellung (World Exhibition)

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1873 Vienna

Name:Weltaustellung (World Exhibition)
Dates:I May – 31 Oct 1873
Days:184 days
Venue:Imperial Park or Prater Park, today claimed as the world’s largest amusement park – 233ha (576 acres)
Theme:Culture and Education
Exhibitors:53,000, within 26 product groups and 174 sections
9,000 of these exhibitors were from Austria, 5,000 from France…
the 35 participating countries aranged geographically on the plan
Awards:Distributed on 18 Aug – 349
Visitors:7,255,000 visitors (half that of Paris 1867) – admission 1 guilder on weekdays (0.5 weekends)
Legacy:The final costs of 19m guilders was twice the budget, income was just 4.3m guilders
– the losses had to be met by the Austrian state.

Organised just after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) this is claimed as the first international exhibition in a German-speaking region, the next would be 130 years later. A plan to hold one in 1859 was delayed by a war in Italy, and one et by the emperor for 1865 was cancells when Paris announced its plan for an 1867 event. This event in 1873 was organised to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Franz Joseph. Austria was keen to show it was the industrial equal of France and Britain.

Following a flood in 1862, to secure the event the Danube river was diverted for 800 m (half a mile) nearer to the centre of Vienna. This effort created 500,000 cu ft of gravel that was used in the construction of the exhibition.

1873 general view

The site was five times that of Paris’s 1867 exposition at 233ha (576 acres). The General Director, Wilhelm von Schwarz-Senborn, planned the event to have four main buildings and a host of smaller buildings. He had worked for Austria at the 1855 Paris, 1862 London and 1867 Paris events.

1873 Vienna poster

The event was centred around the large Palace of Industry which had an E-W nave of 900 m (2,953 ft) and sixteen transepts. This was designed by local celebrity architect Karl von Hasenauer.

1873 Vienna entrance with
view of the Rotunde

The striking Rotunde (Rotunda) was designed by John Scott Russell, Secretary to Britain’s 1851 Commissioners. It was a conical wrought-iron, brick and glass building. It was 87m (284ft) tall with a diameter of 134m (440 ft). There was a 31m (101 ft) diameter central lantern, with an outside walkway providing views of the exhibition city and the Alps. Above this was a 1.5m (25 ft) diameter lantern and this was topped by a giant replica of the Austrian crown in wrought-iron with glass representing the jewels. The Rotunde was supported by 32 pairs of iron columns, joined at top and bottom by 61m (200 ft) iron girders. It was thus over three-times larger than London’s St Paul’s dome and twice the size of the Vatican’s St Paul’s dome. At its centre was an ornamental fountain. It became the symbol of the event, few exhibits were located in the Rotunde, more as an overflow than a plan, and this prompted some to query the cost of this versus its ‘return’. The organisers followed the example of New York’s 1853-4 exhibition and placed canvas frescoes on the inside of the roof. The building was planned to become the Vienna Corn Exchange after the exhibition. However, heavy rains in June damaged the buildings. It was subsequently used for a variety of events until in Sep 1937 it was destroyed by fire.

1873 Machinery Hall

A separate Machinery Hall was 797m (2,614 ft) long and 47m (155 ft) wide, housed industrial and agricultural machinery, it also had rails to assist in delivering large objects and for locomotives to be displayed during the exhibition. It was planned to later be retasked as a freight and grain store for the Great Northern Railway.

The Fine Art Hall and two smaller buildings deiplayed artworks with a new system of illumination that proved so successful that it was installed in two of Vienna’s imperial museums.

Between the Palace and the Machinery Hall were two Agricultural Halls. These showed equipment, beers, wines and a sugar feature with more than ninety participants.

1873 Russian pavilion

A plethora of smaller buildings wre erected as pavilions by participating nations. This approach still operates in World Fairs today.

1873 site plan

The show was opened by the Emperor on 1 May despite many parts of it being unfinished, the Rotunda was just bare brickwork and some of the pavilions were not completed until two months into the run. This led to some criticism that it was like a building site, Worse the opening took place during inclement weather and prompted a large traffic jam, limiting attendance.

In total there were 53,000 exhibitors, within 26 product groups and 174 sections, with 9,000 from Austria, 5,000 from France… The national exhibits were grouped geographically around the site to assist with visitor navigation, at least for those with some understanding of world geography.

Other prime exhibits were scientific, technical and urban developments. The very loose Austrian Patent Laws would in part prompt the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

1873 Medal

Following the lead of the 1867 Paris event, the organisers arranged a large scale model of its own major civil engineering project the Mount Cenis Tunnel, complete with all the railway components.

Human zoo exhibit

There was a form of ‘human zoo’, displaying the Dual Monarchy’s peasants, the Moravians, Romanians and Slovaks. Just as other countries showed their indigenes from China, Japan, Persia and Turkey. It is suggested that Austria was seeking to present itself as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

The exhibition was attended by Japan showing its traditional and decorative art, its ceramics, cloisonneware, lacquerware and textiles. A Japanese garden with a shrine was created and became a popular attraction, it was notably visited by the Emperor and Empress of Austria. The sixty-six Japanesetechnical engineers that accompanied the official delegation produced a ninety-six volume report to describe how Japan should industrialise, and this in turn prompted the 1877 Tokyo event.

The Americans sent a large party to inform their plans for the 1876 Philadelphia exhibition.

The exhibition was battered by external issues. In September 1872 the New York Stock Exchange crashed following Bank of England actions, two months later the London Stock Exchange was heavily impacted and as a result the Vienna Stock Exchange crashed nine days into the event. Many stayed away from the exhibition because of a June cholera epidemic in the city, resulting in almost 3,000 deaths. Finally the hoteliers and restaurateurs of Vienna had hiked their prices, and newly-built hotels (for the exhibition) had low occupancy.

The final costs of 19m guilders was twice the budget, income was just 4.3m guilders – the losses had to be met by the Austrian state. However the event preparations and its show period ahd added a cosmopolitan flavour to Vienna.

Worse the sale of Austrian products on show was negligible while international exhibitors reported good sales volumes.

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