One hundred sixty years ago today, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations or The Great Exhibition, opened in London. It was the first in a series of World’s Fair exhibitions continuing to the present day.
Burton Benedict writes in The Anthropology of World’s Fairs, “The Great exhibition, like the many international expositions or world’s fairs that followed it, was a phenomenon of industrial capitalism. Mass producers sought international mass markets for their goods, and world’s fairs provided display cases reaching millions of potential customers. But the fairs were not only selling goods, they were selling ideas: ideas about the relations between nations, the spread of education, the advancement of science, the form of cities, the nature of domestic life, the place of art in society. They were presenting an ordered world.”
William Makepeace Thackeray published in The Times on May 1, 1851, a poem on the exhibition which read in part:
A peaceful place it was but now,
And lo! within its shining streets
A multitude of nations meets;
A countless throng
I see beneath the crystal bow,
And Gaul and German, Russ and Turk,
Each with his native handiwork
And busy tongue.