For the past 170 years, people from around the world have gathered at different points across the globe to share the latest advancements in science and industry. Explore some of the fascinating inventions that were originally unveiled at world’s fairs by focusing on a few expositions of incredible importance.
The Great Exposition, London 1851
The Great Exposition of the Works of the Industry of All Nations was the precursor to all the world’s fairs, taking place within the 19-acre Crystal Palace. Made entirely of glass, the building was a feat of modern architecture; the building once stood in a neighborhood in London of the same name.
The fair was a symbol of British technological dominance, introducing an early version of a fax machine, which operated similarly to telegraphs of the time. The fax machines we know today wouldn’t show up at another world’s fair until 1939. Furthermore, an American by the name of Samuel Colt presented his Colt 1851 Navy Revolver, a gun that would become legendary in pop culture, at this world’s fair.
Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900
The 1900 Paris Exposition was about 10 times the size of the exposition of 45 years earlier, which saw the reveal of the Eiffel Tower to the world. This fair was legendary in its own right, unveiling magical new inventions that would only hint at the innovation to come over the next century. It was a seminal moment in the history of conveyor belts and manufacturing, as one of the grand prize winners was the first heavy-duty version of conveyor belts, which would soon be vital for assembly line production. Another grand prize winner was Campbell’s soup; many of the company’s cans still display a gold medallion to honor the award.
This world’s fair was also the host of the second modern Olympics and the first-ever to be played outside Greece. However, possibly the most fantastic invention to come from Paris in 1900 was the premiere of the first talking film, which was only some short scenes of an opera and a ballet.
1964 New York World’s Fair
The New York World’s Fair of 1964, with its Jetsons-like aesthetics, saw inventors push the boundaries of technology, envisioning devices so ahead of their time that they’re only recently becoming practical. One such item was AT&T’s video call machine, which was so expensive to operate that the technology would get placed on the backburner until 1970.
However, one technology that did stick around was colored television. Although the technology had already existed for a few years, the fair introduced it to a broader audience, causing it to gain popularity. Ford also introduced the Mustang, and General Motors—not wanting to be upstaged—brought a prototype for an autonomous car, even though it didn’t work.
Now that you’ve learned about some of the different inventions originally unveiled at world’s fairs, which one do you think has shaped modern life the most?