6: International World Fairs 1851-1870

© Bob Denton 2018
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The ‘game-changing’ event was Britain’s 1851 ‘Great Exhibition’. The success of the British approach and its iconic venue, the Crystal Palace, were copied by many countries who built their versions of the palace and launched politically-motivated events, pursuing objectives for imperial brand-building and industrial muscle-flexing. These international events both reflected and drove the evolving culture of a globalising world.

It was the Americans who first coined, with typical hubris, the term ‘World Fair’. They had been called ‘exhibitions’ in Anglophone countries and ‘expositions’ in Francophone and other European and Asian locations; later the diminutive ‘Expo’ came to be used in various locations.

In 1928, the BIE, Bureau International des Expositions was founded as the governing and regulatory body for World Fairs. One part of its constitution is to ensure that an official ‘registered exhibition’ can only be organised once every five years, though they encourage one smaller exposition between each major exhibition. This commercial decision was part of a re-focus away from the goals of nation-states and empires as an exhibition industry evolved.

6.1     USA events 1811-1850

It was not just ihappening n Europe, America too was developing exhibitions, running shows across this period. There were twenty-three fairs held in New York and four in Boston.

6.1.1  1828, 1831, 1845, 1850, New York, American Institute Fairs

See also 1828_NewYork data sheet

‘The American Institute of the City of New York’ was founded in February 1828 to encourage American inventions, promote government policies and encourage domestic agriculture and industry. It was more fully known as the ‘American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention’. It rapidly became a focus for inventors. It organized radio broadcasts, lectures and exhibitions to inform the public about new technologies. Chartered in 1829, 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, 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. In 1835 Niblo’s was to host the first P T Barnum event.

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 from 1828 to 1897.

1845 Annual Fair of the American Institute at Niblo’s Garden

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, the venue was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, becoming a fashionable theatre for vaudeville and farces, until demolished in 1895.

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.

Notable debut products at the Fairs include Morse’s telegraph and Colt’s revolvers.

6.1.2  1837, 1839, 1841, 1844, Boston

See also 1839 Boston data sheet

The Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association was established in 1795 with the aom of promoting the ‘mechanic arts’ and ‘extending the practice of benevolence’. One of its founders was Paul Revere of ‘The British are coming…’ fame. The Association organised a series of events.

Its first exhibition was held from 18-30Sep 1837. The Second Exhibition, at Quincy Hall from 23Sep–4Oct 1839, it was held at Quincy Hall from 20Sep 1841 and 16Sep 1844.

Quincy Hall, Boston

$5,000 was voted to organise the 1837 event and it took $12,507.77 in admission revenues. The Board of Managers concluded that the ‘experiment has been, we trust, entirely satisfactory’ and they looked forward to it growing further for future events.

The 1839 event had 15,000 exhibits and attracted ‘more than 70,000 persons’.

6.2     1851, London, Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations

See also The Great Exhibition 1851, London data sheet

Britain’s Great Exhibition was thoroughly explored at 2.1 above, here we will examine the events over the next decade that were clearly impacted by both its approach and success.

Jump back to 2.1 for full details

6.3     1852, Cork, Irish Industrial Exhibition

See also 1852_Cork data sheet

Cork venue

This Cork National Exhibition was arranged in a new cruciform building with four transepts. It was erected at the Corn Exchange on Albert Quay, the site of the present City Hall. Though called a National Exhibition most of the exhibitors were Cork businesses and manufacturers. It was opened by the Lord Lieutenant and ran for 92 days from 10Jun–10Sep 1852.

One transept was used for the Fine Art exhibition with artworks and sculptures of the leading Irish artists. The other three exhibited all manner of products – hydraulic presses, ‘Norton’s projectile shells’, ale, porter and whiskey, barley and slate, artificial flowers and stuffed birds…

The event attracted 138,375 visitors, with admission charges between 6d and 2s. It was judged a success for making a net £20 (see below, the losses made by 1853 Dublin event), however the census returns showed a decrease in Cork’s employed males in manufacturing.

Materials of the National Exhibition building were later reused in the construction of Cork’s Athenaeum theatre. The architect for this event was appointed to design the Dublin venue for 1853.

6.4     1853, Dublin, Great Industrial Exhibition

See also 1853_Dublin data sheet

The notion of this exhibition was promoted by the Royal Dublin Society as a plan to promote an Irish industrial Revolution.

It was funded by William Dargan, a designer and builder of roads, canals and railways. Dargan became known as the ‘founder of railways in Ireland’. He had worked with Thomas Telford on the London-to-Holyhead road and earned his seed capital by building a road in Dublin. In 1834 Dargan built a 6 mile (10km) long railway line from Dublin to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), this was Ireland’s first railway. He then became involved in most of the lines that linked up Ireland’s urban centres, responsible for building 600 miles (1,300km); Ireland would at peak have 3,500 miles (4,00km). Recognition of his contribution was marked in 1995 with a Dargan Railway bridge in Belfast and in 2003 with the Dargan Bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway.

Dargan initially donated £30,000 and ended up providing a total of £100,000 for the exhibition.  This made it the most extravagant and expensive public event in nineteenth-century Ireland. A confirmed Irish patriot he declined the offer of a knighthood by the British Viceroy, and a baronetcy offered personally by Queen Victoria when she visited his home, the first such visit to an Irish commoner by a British monarch. The event was however marked by a bronze statue of Dargan set before the Irish National Gallery on Leinster Lawn and looking out across Merrion Square.

The venue was designed by the architect who had created the previous year’s Cork event, he was heavily inspired by London’s Crystal Palace. Opened by the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, the exhibition was held from 12May-31Oct, in a temporary building, called the Irish Industrial Exhibition Building. It was located on the grounds of Leinster House and fabricated in timber, iron and glass. It was 130m (425 ft) long 91m (300 ft) wide and 30m (100 ft) high. There were two 15m (50 ft) side halls each with a 20m (65 ft) high dome. There was however a setback when on Christmas Eve 1852 part of the roof was destroyed by a storm.

Fine art court

There was a Fine Arts court, a Machinery court and a hall dedicated to foreign contributors. Exhibits ranged across all industries and included cotton, lace, linen, woollens and worsteds; furs, leather, saddlery and harness; animal and mineral substances; bog-wood carvings; printing, book-binding, paper and stationery; iron and general hardware; furniture, china, cutlery and glassware; carriages. There were novelties like Celtic Revival jewellery and a new ‘calotype’ process for producing large photographs. The US company Colt exhibited and concluded the sale of forty pistols to the Irish prison system, while Singer, the sewing machine company, achieved no sales during the event. British exhibitors also reported poor sales. Perhaps this was not very surprising given the poverty of much of the country who could ill-afford a sewing machine. The British suppression of independence perhaps prompting the state purchase of thos Colt pistols.

1853 Dublin exhibition medallion

Illness in the royal family meant it was not until the 29Aug that Queen Victoria paid an official visit as the patron of education, the arts and industrial progress. The queen was accompanied by Prince Albert and the young princes, Edward and Alfred. The family arrived at Kingstown on the royal yacht and visited on several occasions across her days in Ireland. Her visits boosted attendance despite her commenting that the exhibition halls were ‘ugly on the outside but very fine in the interior’.

Surprisingly Dargan only succeeded in getting the railway companies to promote a special exhibition excursion rate in the last month of the event, though this did assist visitor numbers. A total of 1,156,232 attendance sounds impressive given a total island of Ireland population of c. 6.5m (after the Great Famine deaths and emigrations). Though, it has been suggested that the largely agrarian population was not very engaged with the technologies used to promote the event. The event ran at a loss with a final deficit of £9,000. Dargan personally lost £20,000 on this venture and this contributed to his eventual bankruptcy, the rest through a failed venture in flax-growing.

The site was subsequently used for the construction of the National Gallery of Ireland.

6.5     1853, New York, Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations

See also 1853_NewYork data sheet

The American Institute Fairs were moved to a New York Crystal Palace when it opened in 1853 as the venue for a renamed ‘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.

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.

New York 1853

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 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.

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. However, the show made a loss of $300,000. The attendance waned later in the year leading to the event president’s resignation and his replacement by the showman Phineas T Barnum. The building was used for a variety of other purposes, which included staging the American Institute Fair that was moved from Niblo’s Garden. It was destroyed by fire on 5Oct1858.

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 demonstrating his elevator brake

The display had Otis standing in a cage and 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. Stronger steels arrived some twenty years or so 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  –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 inventor

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 later leased to the American Institute to run its fairs, but on 15Oct1858 the building had a fire damaging the construction and destroying all the contents.

6.6     1854, Munich, First General German Industrial Exhibition

See also 1854_Munich data sheet

The venue for this event was also modelled upon London’s Crystal Palace. Its site was an old botanical garden near the railway station, It was authorised by Maximilian II, King of Bavaria. The glass and iron building was called the Glaspalast (Glass Palace), and the first event was the Erste Allgemeine Deutsche Industrieausstellung (First General German Industrial Exhibition) it opened on 15Jul1854. Its emulation of the London example extended to the fact that its early designs proved too complex and, running out of time, were greatly simplified to use standard components.

Glaspalast external

It was built of cast iron, wrought-iron, oak and glass as an elongated rectangle of two storeys. It was 234m (768 ft) long, 67m (220 ft) wide and 25m (82 ft) high with a transept in the middle and rectangular extensions at both ends. The prefabricated iron components were made by Cramer-Klett in Nuremberg (which in 1900 became MAN). It had previously built the Großhesseloher bridge in Munich and also the Maximilian II conservatory. The glass for 37,000 windows (19,150 sqm), was produced at the Schmidsfelden glass works based in Adeleg in the Bavarian Alps. Its cost has been calculated to have been te equivalent of 170m euros at today’s rates.

Interior view of the Haupthalle der Industrie-Austellung (Foreign Industry Hall) – showing the centrepiece fountain

Construction ran from 31Dec1853 to 7Jun1854, the show opening just five weeks later. It was opening by the king was on the targeted date, 15Jul, nd attended by 90,000 locals and guests. It is reported that there were 6,800 exhibitors, their exhibits worth about $7,500,000. But the event was heavily affected when a number of early exhibition guests and event staff contracted cholera. Perhaps why the Bavarian government was obliged to make up a deficiency of $1,000,000.

Glaspalast external

The venue was electrically lit and an artificial waterfall was also electrically operated, the show first demonstrating that electrical power could be operated after spanning large distances. Intended to have a second career as a greenhouse, after 1889 the venue was used exclusively for art exhibitions.

Internal shot

The fountain of the Glaspalast is extant, it stands in the Weißenburger Platz, Haidhausen, Munich.

Its final similarity to the Crystal Palace was that the building was destroyed by fire on 6Jun1931. A daily paper Neues Wiener Tagblatt reported on7Jun1931 that ‘…only 80 of the 2820 exhibited works of painting, graphics and sculpture were rescued. The damage is estimated to be between 25 and 30 million Marks […] A special tragi-comedy was the fact that the pictures rejected by the jury were stored in an adjacent shed not affected by the fire.’ The new Nazi government decided not to rebuild it, instead they built the Haus der Kunst (House of Art) on the Prinzregentenstraße near the Englischer Garten (English Garden). The Park Cafe now stands on the site of the Glaspalast.

6.7     1855, Paris, Exposition Universelle

See also 1855_Paris data sheet

The French had watched with envy the success of the London Great Exhibition. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew and heir to Napoléon I was elected as President of the French Second Republic from 1848-1852 (the youngest elected President before Macron). He promptly organised a coup d’état and declared himself Emperor Napoléon III of the Second French Empire on the 48th anniversary of his uncle’s coronation. He became emperor from 1852-1870 which still makes him the longest-serving French head of state since the French Revolution.

Palais d’Industrie 1855

Napoléon III’s imperial regime was harsh with censorship and imprisonments drove many, including Victor Hugo, into exile. However, it was Napoléon III who pushed through a major renovation of Paris including Haussman’s grande croisée de Paris, a great crossroad at the centre of Paris, and a network of boulevards to connect the grand boulevards from the Louis XVIII restoration. Napoléon also pressed Haussmann to complete his work on the Rue de Rivoli before the exhibition opened.

Napoléon wanted his countrymen to surpass the 1851 British event both to consolidate his new political status and to assert France’s place in the world. The full name of the event was the Exposition Universelle des produits de l’Agriculture, de l’Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris (the Universal Exhibition of the products of Agriculture, Industry and the Fine Arts). This twelfth event was the first that was intentionally planned to be international.

As the centrepiece they designed a Palais de l’Industrie to try to eclipse the Crystal Palace. The Palais, located on the Champs-Élysées, was designed by architect Gabriel Davioud who would go on to produce a range of civil projects in Paris including the Saint-Michel Fountain, a Palais, a temple, several theatres, a department store, the 19th arrondissement) Mairie.. The Crimean War (1853-1856) intruded on the planning for the event yet interest was high enough to require an annexe building to be added to the Palais. It spread across 16ha (39 acres).

It ran from the 15May-15Nov, 185 days. There were 10,108 foreign exhibitors representing thirty-four countries and a further 10,691 from France and 22 of its colonies. However, it was French and British industries that dominated the exhibition and received the majority of the awards.

Colonial pavilion at the 1855 exposition

The Palais was 260m (850 ft) x 107m (350 ft) and built in stone. It was supported by iron beams, its sheer bulk attracted aesthetic criticism.

Palais de l’Industrie
Palais de l’Industrie – internal

Despite its size the Palais could not house all the exhibits, so two other halls were built the Galerie des Machines and the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Originally the Beaux Arts exhibit was planned for the Louvre but a temporary structure was preferred. It was found necessary to erect smaller buildings for carriages, agricultural implements and cheaper articles. Areas in the open ground were also devoted to the exhibition of articles.

Together this formed a 16ha site and attracted 4,533,464 visitors, though 900,000 of these visited only the Beaux Arts pavilion. Previous events had provided free access to their halls and salons but the Exposition Universelle de 1855 charged an entry fee between 20c and 2Fr. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the event.

There were national pavilions for Algeria, British Guiana, Canada, Denmark, Dutch East Indies, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Sardinia, Spain, Tasmania. France had a large Algerian presentation, Britain a large feature on India. Of great interest were new materials like aluminium and cement and new techniques for electroplating silver.

About five thousand works of art from twenty-nine countries were exhibited, including the works of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and the Pre-Raphaelites. Two of Gustave Courbet’s canvases were not accepted for exhibition, so the young artist held his own exhibition outside the fine arts pavilion, the first of a number of alternative art exhibitions that would be held by disgruntled artists at world’s fairs.

Notably it was at Napoléon’s insistence that the leading wine industry brokers were asked to rank the Bordeaux wines that were to be on display at the exhibition. They did this by ranking them in importance from the first to the fifth growths or crus. This gestated into the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, a stepping stone towards the introduction in 1936 of the AOP system (Appellation d’Origine Protégée).

The Châteaux of Bordeaux, promo item, for 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris

The government underwrote 4% of the costs in return for a share of the profits. The cost of the buildings and other expenses were high and the event’s deficit proved to be 8.1m francs, there was no share of profits for the government. But, as a grand display, the exhibition proved successful, for it was estimated that the money spent in Paris by foreign visitors more than compensated for the financial failure of the exhibition. The Palais de l’Industrie was pulled down and later replaced by the Grand Palais for the 1900 World Fair.

6.8     1857, Madrid, Exhibición General (General Agricultural Exhibition)

After the success of the British 1851 Great Exhibition, Spain had been keen to organise a Great Spanish Exhibition of Industry and Arts in Madrid. Many royal edicts were issued but nothing happened to create this central set piece show. There was an earlier event held in Madrid in 1827, but little is known of it and it was not repeated.

However several individual sector shows did proceed, including this agricultural event in 1857, a maritime show in 1876, a viniculture show in 1877, and a mining, metallurgy and minerals show in 1883. Spain would not organise a truly international event until 1888, and it was held not in Madrid but in the Spanish industrial capital of Barcelona.

Winnowing Machine from Navarra
– gold medal winner Madrid 1857
source: www.navarra.es)

6.9     1857, Manchester, The Art Treasures Exhibition

See also 1857_Manchester data sheet

In 1835, the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville visited Manchester and reported ‘A sort of black smoke covers the city … From this foul drain, the greatest stream of human industry flows out to fertilise the world.’ Manchester became a city in 1853 and by 1855 was the home to 95 cotton mills and 1,724 warehouses. Manchester’s city fathers sought to promote a cultural thread by pursuing the theme for this show as ‘advancing culture in an industrial city’.

A general committee was chaired by the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, and an executive committee was chaired by Thomas Fairbairn, the son of a local iron founder. John Deane a commissioner of the 1853 Dublin event became its General Commissioner. Sir Humphrey de Trafford offered a three-acre site that had been being used by Manchester Cricket Club, moving them off to Old Trafford. The site was served by a new railway station, extending an existing railway line (Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham), which enabled special railway excursions to the event. It was also close to the Manchester Botanical Gardens. The site is today’s White City Retail Park.

The venue was built to be similar to the Crystal Palace. It was a temporary iron-and-glass structure, 200m (656 ft) long and 61m (200 ft) wide, with a barrel vault 17m (56 ft), It had a 32m (104 ft) wide central gallery running the length of the building. The team had pedigree, the main contractors were C D Young & Co who were already working on what would become the V&A Museum, the designer was Francis Fowke who later designed the Natural History Museum. It used 660 tons of cast iron, 610 tons of wrought iron, 65,000 sq ft (6,000 sq m) of glass and over 1,500,000 bricks. The building cost £7,000 to build, and when it was demolished in 1858 £2,836 was realised.

The 142-day event is said to have attracted 1,300,000 visitors, which was four-times the then city population. It displayed more than 16,000 items of art including paintings, sculpture, photographs, illuminated manuscripts, china, glass, tapestry, armour and furniture.

1857 Art Treasures Exhibitions

All the items were loaned from private British collections, including those of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Friedrich Engels, a Manchester factory manager at the time, described the impact of the exhibition to Karl Marx saying, ‘Everyone up here is an art lover now and the talk is all of the pictures at the exhibition’.

The event’s notion had been prompted both by the Great Exhibition and more specifically by an 1854 book by Dr Gustav Waagen, an art historian. It listed art treasures around Britain that were not on display to the public. A member of the Society of Arts read the book and had the idea of approaching the works’ owners to loan them for an exhibition. He gained the support of a leading Manchester industrialist who also pursued an interest in art. There was no public money available but a hundred wealthy Mancunians, perhaps inspired by the success of the Great Exhibition, contributed £74,000 to kick-start the venture

The outcome was claimed as the largest UK art exhibition, the works displayed in ten categories – Old Masters, Modern Masters, British Portraits and Miniatures, Water-colours, Ancient Sketches/ Drawings, Engravings, Illustrations or Photography, works of Oriental Art, objects of Oriental Arts, and Sculptures. Works included old European masters – Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian… and modern British artists – Constable, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Turner…

The selection and display of the artworks created processes for public art collections subsequently used by the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum.

Interiors of the 1857 Art Treasures
Palace and Exhibition

The display of paintings was arranged in chronological order and divided into geographical categories with Italian art on one wall and other nations opposite. This enabled the viewer to learn about the development of art practice over time and to compare regional approaches.

Dr Waagen’s book

Music was a highlight at the Art Treasures Palace with Charles Hallé invited to assemble and lead an orchestra to perform a daily concert and organ recital. His orchestra was a huge success with the Manchester Guardian declaring the farewell concert to be ‘the best instrumental concert ever given in Manchester’. Following the closure of the exhibition, Hallé convinced his orchestra members to stay on in Manchester and within a few months he launched a series of concerts in his own name and the world famous Hallé Orchestra was born.

The event made a profit of £304 14s 6d.

6.10   1857, San Francisco, Mechanics and Manufacturers’ Fair (see page E32)

See also 1857_SanFrancisco data sheet

As we saw above, from the 1820s Mechanics’ Institutes had been founded to present classes and lectures on science, technology and the humanities. At their pinnacle there were 700 Institutes in England alone, the notion spread throughout the world.

San Francisco venue

San Francisco had a population of 800 in 1848, but after gold was discovered nearby people arrived from all over the world to exploit it. Much of the gold was exhausted by 1853, the out-of-work miners boosting the city’s population. But it was a city in decline, these ex-miners had no other skills, found little alternative work. California had no colleges, universities or public libraries.

In 1854 forty individuals from the building industry congregated at City Hall and founded the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute, their motivation was to counter the moral decline of the city (with its plethora of saloons and casinos), and to support local industry rather than continue to import most products and goods. Once constituted it set out to offer a vocational school and library, offering courses in applied maths, electricity, industrial design, ironwork, mechanical drawing, woodworking.

In 1855, the Institute first opened its library with just four books – the ‘Holy Bible’, ‘The Constitution of the United States’, ‘The Encyclopaedia of Architecture’ and ‘Curtis on Conveyancing’. By 1858 thanks to its fairs the library needed larger premises to hold its nine hundred books.

James Lloyd Lafayette Warren was a horticulturalist from Boston operating a seed store in Sacramento. He published California Farmer a newspaper which set about supporting and promoting the port of San Francisco, the agriculture and industry of California.  The paper ran a State Fair in 1854 but it was not successful in attracting industrial exhibitors. For the 1856 State Fair the Institute was invited to run a mechanical department, to receive and vet entries, coordinate the delivery and display. The success with this event feature prompted the Institute to decide to run its own event, an important moment because its fairs enabled the Institute to grow and prosper.

A prominent land-owner, James Lick, donated the Institute some land where they could promote industry by running exhibitions of inventions, products and art. The land was located on Montgomery Street between Post and Sutter (today the site of Crocker Galleria). Henry F. Williams (twenty six years old) was a building contractor but moonlighted as the event manager. He also delivered a stirring opening speech that detailed the State’s industrial successes.

Pavilion external

At a cost of $7,000 the Institute erected a wood-frame, canvas-roofed cruciform pavilion. Beneath a central dome was a fountain and above it a huge flying eagle. Exhibits included the State’s minerals, a full-size windmill, a fire engine and four billiard tables, plus arts and crafts. The first show made enough money to repay construction and running costs and deliver a profit of $772.

Main & Winchester stand, only known photo from 1857 event showing its range of saddles and horse tack
Source: Mechanics’ Institute Archives

The event ran from 7Sep1857, brochures for the event proclaiming it would be open ‘for at least ten days’, it actually ran for four weeks. The event used 18,000 sq ft (1,672 sqm) to present some 650 exhibitors. At the time this temporary building was the largest construction in California.

Awards were presented to many organisations still in business – for example Ghirardelli Chocolate, Good Year Tire, Levi Strauss and Singer Sewing Machines. Strangely, a quarter of the exhibitors were women, which did not reflect San Francisco’s general population. There were also three African-American exhibitors, not then permitted to be full citizens of California, two were engaged in boot and shoe manufacture, the other in soap manufacture.

An advertising campaign ran in the state’s newspapers and used flyers placed in post offices and labour exchanges. Its objective was fund-raising for the Institute and it attracted 10,000 visitors, a quarter of the city’s then population. There were also musical concerts each night.

At the 1860 event, a heavily subscribed meeting ran into problems. The subject was fraudulent land claims, but the canvas walls of the meeting area had terrible acoustics, and dissipated the sound. They had to take the meeting outside to remove that issue. This 1860 event was a financial failure. A series of thirty-one of these fairs from 1857-1899 enabled the Institute to grow its book collection and expand its courses. Today it has 165,000 books and adds 300 new books each year.

© Bob Denton 2018
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