Universal Exhibitions or World Fairs in Paris
It all started in the second half of the 19th century when some of Europes leading capitals held a universal exhibition, or world fair as they became known, and the very first one was held in London in 1851, which was when the fabulous Crystal Palace was constructed for this event, and shocked, yet amazed its visitors.
The reasoning behind these exhibitions was a way for each nation to be able to showcase its innovations in business, industry and fine arts and provide an opportunity for people from all over the world to compete with new architectural designs, etc.
It was then the turn of France to hold an Exposition Universelle, or World Fair in 1855 and being the first one in Paris, they did not want to be outdone. So the Palais de l’Industrie was constructed, which in fact was actually inspired by the Crystal Palace and therefore demonstrated that France would not be outdone by the technical achievements in Britain. A stone facade was even added to the structure, which drew even further admiration from the general public.
This first exhibition was held along the Champs Elysees, yet as you will read later, the original building of the Palais de l’Industrie is no longer standing, and the only reminder of this fair is the Theatre du Rond-Point that is situated on the Avenue des Champs Elysees.
The next universal exhihibtion held in Paris was in 1867 and was located on the Champ de Mars, which was the military training ground by the Ecole Militaire, and a glass and iron structure along with several smaller buildings were constructed in order to accommodate the exhibitors and the visitors.
The 1878 Exposition Universelle
From this year on, Paris was to hold the World Fair every eleven years, and therefore the next one was in 1878 and was on a far larger scale than those of previous years and again was located on the Champ de Mars, however, by the opening day some of the buildings needed for this exposition were still not entirely finished, which was due to political complications.
However, some of the major attractions at this exhibition included inventions like the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell and a megaphone by Thomas Edison. In addition to these, the finished head of the famous Statue of Liberty that now resides overlooking the New York harbour was on display within the Trocadero Gardens.
Of course, these exhibitions or expos as they are also known, are hosted by different countries all over the world, for instance, the 1893 exhibition in Chicago, USA was to remember and celebrate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America and the 1915 exhibition held in San Francisco was for the grand opening of the Panama Canal.
The 1889 World Fair
For France, it was the centenary of the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution, that provided the perfect celebration for their next universal exhibition to be held in 1889, and again, the obvious choice of location was the capital city of Paris where this all began.
The location chosen was again the Champ de Mars and this time it was even bigger and better than ever before, and in fact the Galerie des Machines was the longest interior space constructed in the world at the time. And instead of just incorporating the area used for the 1878 expo, it also utilised part of the River Seine and an area by Les Invalides.
However, many of you will possibly recognise this year in the history of Paris, as it was the year that the Eiffel Tower was finished, which served as the entrance arch to the fair, and of course this is now the most famous landmark in Paris.
The 1900 Universal Exhibition
The next universal exhibition in Paris was in 1900, and designed to celebrate the achievements within the last century, but also look forward to future innovations and developments, it was yet again a time to display magnificence on a grand scale.
The triumph of electricity was to provide a far greater impact on the exhibitions by providing an almost magical atmosphere during the evening and some were purely decorate while electricity was also utilised for functional purposes as well.
It was for this particular World Fair that the Palais de l’Industrie was demolished and the Grand Palais was constructed to hold horse shows, a motor show and art exhibitions along with the Petit Palais that was there to exhibit French art as well.
But after this there were many other expos presented throughout the world and these still continue to this day, yet the most significant World Fair to hit Paris after the 1900 international exhibition was in 1937.
The 1937 Expo in Paris
For this particular universal and international exhibition, which was the last that Paris conducted, it was decided that the Palais du Trocadero that was erected for the 1878 exhibition should be demolished and a new building put in its place. This was renamed the Palais de Chaillot and provided an esplanade with fabulous views over the Jardins des Trocadero and further to the now symbolic monument in Paris of the Eiffel Tower.
And it was at this time that the Musee de l’Homme was first opened to the public within the Palais de Chaillot, plus the Palais de Tokyo was constructed to house the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Another major impact on the visitors was the science exhibition located within a part of the Grand Palais. And when you look at the history of the Palais de la Decouverte, you will see that the innovations of science were made accessible to the general public through experiments and demonstrations, which is why this became, and still is, an incredible science museum in Paris today.