England - Periods - Victorian 1831-1913

The Great Exhibition

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The Great Exhibition, also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition, was a grand international exposition that took place in London, England during the Victorian period. It was held from May 1 to October 15, 1851, in a specially designed glass and iron structure known as the Crystal Palace, located in Hyde Park.

The exhibition was organized by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, with the intention of showcasing the achievements of industrialization and modern technology to the world. Over 14,000 exhibitors from around the world participated in the event, displaying a wide range of products and technologies, from machinery to textiles, to decorative arts, and many more.

The exhibition covered an area of over 990,000 square feet and was visited by over six million people during its six-month run. The Crystal Palace itself was a marvel of engineering and design, constructed entirely of glass and iron, and was a symbol of the new industrial age.

The Great Exhibition had a significant impact on the Victorian era and the world. It showcased the technological advancements of the time and helped promote international trade and cultural exchange. The exhibition also served as a platform for the promotion of British imperialism, as the British Empire was at its height during this period.

In addition to its cultural and economic significance, the Great Exhibition also had a lasting impact on the arts and design. Many of the exhibits and objects on display were influential in the development of the Arts and Crafts movement, which rejected the mass-produced goods of the industrial age in favor of traditional craftsmanship and design.

The Great Exhibition was an important event not only for the United Kingdom but also for the rest of the world. The exhibition provided a platform for many countries to showcase their technological advancements, artistic and cultural achievements, and industrial products.

The Crystal Palace, which was designed by the British architect Joseph Paxton, was a remarkable feat of engineering and architecture. It was constructed entirely of glass and iron, which was a revolutionary approach to construction at the time. The building's design allowed natural light to enter, creating a bright and airy space for the exhibits.

The exhibits at the Great Exhibition included items from many countries, including India, China, the United States, and France. Some of the most popular exhibits included the Koh-i-Noor diamond from India, the Jacquard loom from France, and the Colt revolver from the United States.

The exhibition was also a significant commercial success. Many exhibitors reported increased sales and exposure, and the event helped to promote international trade and cultural exchange. The Great Exhibition also helped to establish London as a center of trade and commerce.

In addition to its economic and cultural significance, the Great Exhibition had an impact on the public's perception of technology and industry. The exhibition helped to promote the idea that technology and industry could improve people's lives and contribute to social progress.

The legacy of the Great Exhibition can still be seen today. The event helped to establish the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses many of the exhibition's original objects. The exhibition also inspired subsequent world's fairs and expositions, including the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889, which featured the Eiffel Tower.

Overall, the Great Exhibition was a significant event in the history of the Victorian era and a testament to the achievements of industrialization and modern technology.

Additional detail

The visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the Great Exhibition was one of the most anticipated events of the exhibition. On May 1, 1851, the opening day of the exhibition, the royal couple arrived at the Crystal Palace in a grand procession.

Victoria and Albert were both enthusiastic supporters of the exhibition and had been involved in its planning and organization from the beginning. They were also interested in the technological and industrial advancements on display and were eager to see the exhibits firsthand.

Upon their arrival, Victoria and Albert were greeted by a cheering crowd and a 41-gun salute. They then proceeded to tour the exhibition, starting at the British section, where they viewed displays of machinery, textiles, and other products.

As they continued their tour, Victoria and Albert stopped at various exhibits, including those showcasing Indian art and Chinese porcelain. They also visited the French section, where they viewed exhibits of luxury goods such as perfumes and jewelry.

One of the highlights of their visit was the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which had been taken from India and was on display in the British section. Victoria and Albert were both impressed by the diamond's size and beauty and later had it mounted in a brooch for the Queen to wear.

Throughout their visit, Victoria and Albert were accompanied by a retinue of courtiers and officials, as well as by the exhibition's organizers, who explained the exhibits and answered their questions. The royal couple spent several hours at the exhibition and later hosted a reception for the exhibitors and their families.

Victoria and Albert's visit to the Great Exhibition was widely covered by the press and helped to generate public interest in the event. Their support for the exhibition and their interest in the technological and industrial advancements on display helped to promote the idea that technology and industry could contribute to social progress.

The royal couple's visit also helped to establish the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was founded with the proceeds from the exhibition. Today, the museum houses many of the original objects from the Great Exhibition, including the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Crystal Palace's original entranceway.

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Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2023

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