Expo 51

The antecedents of Montreal’s Expo 67 date all the way hack to Ahasuerus’ exhibition described in the Book of Esther. Rut the first to recognize officially the internationality of commercial accomplishment was the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in Joseph Paxton’s fabulous Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. London, in 1851. The founding force behind that glorious exposition was Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria and possessor of enough noble determination to persevere against planning disputes, construction delays, logistical imbroglios, and the fervent attacks of critics who charged, among other things, that the fair would lead to “the establishment of the cheap and nasty trash and trumpery system.”

The fair opened as scheduled on May 20, “one of the greatest and most glorious days of our lives,” Victoria confided to her journal. Before it closed on October 15, more than six million visitors had wandered through the nineteen acres of enclosed space, inspecting the wares and products of 13,937 exhibitors, over half of them from the British Isles and the Empire.

Prizes were awarded with the emphasis on individual, not national, accomplishment. But few observers could resist the patriotic implications. One enterprising American, Charles T. Rodgers of Louisiana, the next year took the trouble to produce—and sell —an elaborate chromolithograph together with an explanatory booklet. His manuscript explained in great detail how the 1851 fair, by acquainting men with each other’s work, would usher in a new epoch in which mankind “will gravitate together in benevolence and love.” As if to demonstrate this new spirit of Christian internationalism, Rodgers titled his picture American Superiority at the World’ Great Fair.

He was not without some justification. On August 22. 1851, while the fair was in full swing, the schooner America had vanquished the pride of England’s racing fleet; McCormick’s reaper was the toast of two continents; and Alfred C. Hobbs had promoted our new parautoptic lock by picking Europe’s best. But it was by no means an overwhelming victory. The United States, then on the eve of its vast industrial expansion, accounted for a mere three per cent of the awards; in one third of the official categories we received no recognition at all. But that did not stop Mr. Rodgers or diminish the national pride of those Americans who bought his chromo.