Volume Three: Past, Present, and Future
As long as you keep asking, we’ll keep answering. Below, we’ve responded to a third batch of reader-submitted questions. Can’t find the info you’re looking for? Keep sending your pressing Expo 2012 questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
and check back frequently as we’ll continue posting answers to your inquiries throughout the duration of Expo 2012.
Q. What was the first world’s fair?
The first true modern world’s fair was the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, which took place in 1851 in London. Attended by 6.2 million people, its DNA has since been cloned by all world’s fairs and even trade shows many times since then, including conceptual anchors such as:
• Cutting-Edge Architecture
The Great Exhibition’s crown jewel was the Crystal Palace, the McCormick Place of its day. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton in just 10 days, and built in only nine months, the 746,592-square-foot glass-and-iron exhibit hall was so huge that management was forced to bring in hawks to control the rogue sparrow population, which flew in the Palace’s many entrances to scavenge the litter of free food left by its six million visitors.
• New Product Launches
Voting machines, flush toilets, the McCormick reaper, and Colt revolvers debuted there. The expo was also the site of the first major international exhibition of photography, an art and amusement that was still in its early development at the time.
• Live Product Demos
English physicist Frederick Bakewell demonstrated an early version of what became the fax machine. Visitors could also view cotton production from spinning the raw material to the finished cloth, while gazing later at a machine that cut, gummed, folded, and stacked envelopes.
• Oversized Props, Extreme Entertainment, and Bizarre Attractions
A 4-ton crystal fountain squirted water 250 feet in the air; a 600-voice choir serenaded Queen Victoria; a stuffed elephant, a reconstruction of the Dodo bird, and the first life-sized reproductions of dinosaurs awed attendees with their depiction of nature’s oddities.
• Celebrity-for-Celebrity’s-Sake Appearances
The exhibition was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Lewis Carroll, Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte, and Czar Alexander II of Russia.
• Profit for “Show Management”
The show sponsor raked in $17.5 million, measured in today’s currency.
Q. How is Expo 2012 different from Expo 2010 in Shanghai? Are they both considered world’s fairs?
While both Expo 2010 in Shanghai and Expo 2012 in Yeosu share a common nomenclature and are frequently referred to as world expos, they are technically different.
Expo 2010 was what the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE, the Paris-based organization that governs expos) categorizes as a world expo (aka international registered exhibition, world’s fair, or universal exposition). Expo 2012, meanwhile, is what the BIE classifies as an international/specialized expo (also called an international recognized exposition).
Besides the names, the most salient distinctions between the two types are those of scale, chronology, and duration. Starting with the 21st century, world expos like the previous one in Shanghai can now occur every five years, in years that end with a 5 or a 0 (e.g., 2010, 2015, and 2020), while international/specialized expos, such as the current one in Yeosu, can take place any time between two world expos.
World expos last as long as six months (in the past, some ran for two years, such as Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition, which stretched from 1933 to 1934, and New York’s World’s Fair, which took place from 1964 to 1965), but international/specialized expos are allowed to run for no more than three months. World expos can be staged over an unlimited amount of space, but international/specialized expos are constrained to a maximum of 25 hectares (about 62 acres, or 2.7 million square feet). To give a real-world idea of their size, 25 hectares is virtually equal to the total amount of retail space in the Mall of America.
There are two other key distinctions that bear mentioning. In world expos, the participating countries and other organizations must construct their own pavilions, while in international/specialized expos, the show organizer builds pavilions, then makes areas within them available to participants free of rent or any charges.
Finally, the themes in world expos must reflect what the BIE calls a “universal concern.” For example, the motto for Expo 2010 in Shanghai was “Better City, Better Life,” which addressed the urban ills that threaten to overwhelm the world’s municipalities. The theme for the upcoming Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” will focus on the technologies that will sustain the food chain in a calorie-challenged planet where 925 million people — one in every seven on the globe — are mal- or undernourished.
By contrast, the motifs of the international/specialized expos tend to reflect more modest thematic ambitions. The concept behind the 2008 expo in Zaragoza, Spain, “Water and Sustainable Development,” would not have seemed out of place in a graduate-school course catalog. In a similar vein, the Yeosu expo’s “The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities” motif sounds more like a technical seminar and less like a memorable advertising tagline. The subject is a critical concern, certainly, but it smacks more of an educational museum exhibit rather than a Herculean challenge for all mankind.
While the world expos and international/specialized expos make up the vast majority of these global exhibitions, there is a third, less well-known variety. Since 1960, the BIE has included a type known as international horticultural exhibitions. Even though these botanical expos can be extensive, and, as evidenced by their name, can attract a global audience, they are not considered in the same league as world expos and international/specialized expos.
Q. What products made their debuts at past world’s fairs?
From guns to gums, world’s fairs have been the launching pads for dozens, even hundreds, of products that rocketed into our lives. At London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations in 1851, for example, visitors not only gaped at Samuel Morse’s telegraph, but they were also privy to the comforts of the first major installation of public flush privies. Thomas Edison demonstrated the dulcet tones of the phonograph at Paris’ Exposition Universelle in 1889. Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition was literally a treat for foodies, with Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Beer, Aunt Jemima syrup, and Juicy Fruit gum taking their first major public bow there. The St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 introduced the safety razor and rayon. Kraft Foods Inc. presented Miracle Whip at Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition in 1933. RCA Corp. premiered the television at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, while 25 years later at the 1964 fair, also held in Gotham, the Ford Motor Co. introduced the Mustang automobile. And Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan, served as the stage for the first-ever IMAX film.
Following Expo ’70, companies appearing at world’s fairs lessened the emphasis on revealing new products specifically and increased the focus on displaying novel technologies in general. Thus, advances in robotics were highlighted at Expo’85 in Tsukuba, Japan, while energy-efficient transit was touted at Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, and Green technologies, such as smog-absorbing paint, were featured at Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes — or even Inspector Clouseau — to deduce why exhibitors chose world’s fairs to debut new wares and the products of industrial science. The reason was simple math: millions of attendees meant millions in sales. Before television and the Internet could introduce products to the masses in one fell swoop, world’s fairs constituted the greatest concentration of consumers in one space at any one time. Indeed, the 10 million attendees at Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exhibition in 1876 represented almost 25 percent of the total populace of the United States. Additionally, the 27 million who showed for Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 were the equivalent of about 42 percent of the country’s head count.
Even in this century, with a slew of ADD-inducing diversions, entertainment options, and brand experiences, fairs are still people magnets. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, 45 million attended, equaling nearly 34 percent of the country’s residents. Expo ‘67 in Montreal drew 50 million — 2.5 times Canada’s entire population, while Shanghai received 73.5 million visitors. Like trade shows themselves, these figures suggest that world’s fairs will continue to be a preeminent showcase of emerging products and technologies.
Q. Where and when will the next Expo take place?
In March, 2008, the BIE selected Milan, Italy, as the site for Expo 2015, which edged out the city of Smirne, Turkey, for the honor. It will be the second time a world’s fair has been held in Milan, the second-largest city in Italy and a world-renowned hub of fashion and finance. The fair, sometimes known as the Great Expo of Work, was staged there in 1906, and is credited with launching Milan’s rise to prominence on the global stage.
In a departure from the cartoon-like blobs that regularly serve as world expo mascots, the symbol of Expo 2015 will be Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. A universally recognized icon of the Renaissance and Italian culture, da Vinci‘s 1490 drawing represents man at the apex of his skill in the sciences and his appreciation of the arts.
The expected roster of 154 countries will build their exhibits and pavilions on an expanse that, at 272 acres, is about 10 times the size of the Yeosu expo yet just under one-fifth that of the Shanghai fair. The expo’s theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” will concentrate on the challenges of an increasingly populated planet where 6 million children starve to death every year, and 3 billion are prey to an insecure food chain.