Although the first world exposition officially occurred in 1851 in London, enormous get-togethers were nothing new. Expositions originate from markets in medieval times, where masses of people would converge at major commercial route city centers. Lyons, Frankfurt, and Leipzig were particularly noted for their early markets. After London's initial exposition, Paris held expositions in 1867, 1878, 1889 (the setting for Murder on the Eiffel Tower) and 1900. Other successful expositions occurred in various locations such as Vienna, Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona, St. Louis, Turin, and Philadelphia.
While most of the construction is temporary and is dismantled upon the conclusion of the event, many structures built for expositions remain in locations around the world. Just as the 1889 Paris Exposition introduced the Eiffel Tower, so other expositions produced similarly famous urban architecture. For example, Seattle's well-known Space Needle, designed by Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, is a remnant from the 1962 World's Fair. Memorial Hall, the 1876 Centennial Exposition's primary building in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, currently houses the Please Touch Museum. San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition 1915, celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, resulted in the construction of the Palace of Fine Arts located near the Golden Gate Bridge - and the great Crystal Palace built for the first world exposition in London stood proudly until 1936, when it was destroyed by fire.
Historically, world expositions can be roughly divided into three main eras. The industrialization era (18511938) focused primarily on introducing new technology; the cultural exchange era (19391991) centered on humanitarian and cultural themes; while the national branding era (1992present) aims to promote national images. Current expositions lean toward including aspects of all three eras and are primarily educational vehicles designed to promote global understanding. Guidelines are monitored by the Bureau International des Expositions ("BEI"), which was established in 1928 to oversee the frequency and quality of exhibitions. Membership to the BIE currently consists of 98 nations; the next exposition is scheduled to open in Shanghai in 2010.
Photos: Above: The facade of the original Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower, and the Space Needle. Left: Contemporary views of the Paris Exposition of 1889.
This article was originally published in October 2008, and has been updated for the
September 2009 paperback release.
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