A world's fair is a large exhibition designed to showcase the achievements of each nation in terms of technology, arts, culture and industry. Historically, it has been these events where major global technologies that have changed society as we know have been revealed and the even changes host every few years or so.
One such host who usually attracts the very best is France, who encourage the world to visit their capital and bring the best of the best with them. With Paris currently bidding to host it in 2025 (after Abu Dhabi in the UAE in 2020) we look at some of the major creations that have been revealed at former Paris expos.
1855: The Saxophone
London had hosted the Great Exhibition in 1851 in order to showcase the might of the British Empire and invite the world to see what it could produce in its specifically designed and built Crystal Palace. Four years later, Paris was determined not to be outdone on their first World Fair and so set about building the glorious Palais de l’Industrie and the surviving Théâtre du Rond-Point.
In these magnificent structures, such items as the Singer sewing machine; the Colt six-shooter revolver, and the Bordeaux wine classification system, still used today, were all unveiled and all, in their own way, changed the world. However, in terms of culture, it could be argued that Adolphe Sax's instrument stole the show with the saxophone being showcased to the world. It may not sound impressive now but consider a world where the saxophone had not been invented. Jazz, as we know it, would not exist, thus affecting almost all musical forms the succeeded it.
1867: The Louis Vuitton Trunk
Three times the amount of people who went to the first Parisian world fair went to the next and there they were treated to sights such as locomotives, cannons, and enormous construction cranes alongside a giant aquarium featuring a deep sea diver which went on to inspire Jules Verne to write his iconic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
However, in terms of fashion, it was the Louis Vuitton trunk that came out on top with it revolutionizing the way people traveled as well as becoming an enduring icon and item that helped launch and unstoppable fashion behemoth.
1878: The Telephone
After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, France wanted to show it had returned to peaceful and prosperous times and out on an exhibition that saw people able to walk through the unfinished head of the Statue of Liberty which would be gifted to America 8 years later. There was also the hot air balloon first soaring in the skies.
In terms of inventions, though, it was all about sound as Thomas Alva Edison’s megaphone and phonograph both were on display but it was Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone that stole the show as the Scot showcased a technology that would change communication like never before.
1878: Street Lighting
In the same year that the telephone, literally, got people talking, the first demonstration of electric street lighting also took place as the avenue up to the Place de l’Opéra was lined with Yablochkov arc lamps, powered by Zénobe Gramme dynamos with the whole area lit up without the use of gas lamps (which had already earned Paris the moniker 'The City of Light'.)
Part of the exhibition galleries was maintained and moved to the foot of the Eiffel tower where it still sits today.
1889: The Eiffel Tower
On the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and thus the start of the French Revolution, Paris reconstructed the world's most famous prison as well as erecting a temporary tower just for the exhibition by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel with workers toiling day and night to get it finished in time. Of course, that tower never came down and now remains the tallest structure in Paris.
Other important products featured at the show include Tissot watches, cigarette manufacturing machines, and the gramophone.
1900: The Paris Metro
London has the world's oldest metro system with the London Underground first opening in 1863 but Paris was desperate to keep up and launched its Paris metro in time for, and as a part of, 1900 world fair. The event was 10 times larger than the first with the show ground amounting to 120 hectares and 83,000 exhibitors being involved, including 40,000 from overseas.
Part of the reason for its massive expansion was because of the newly inaugurated underground metro system as well as the recent expansion to the Paris train system which meant 51 million went to see the exhibition. Given that the population of the city was only 41 million at the time this was an extremely impressive feat.
1900: Talking Films
The 1900 exhibition was actually an astonishing show of technology and arts and often saw the two coming together. In fact, the Palais de l’Électricité held a beacon that ran on a whopping 50,000 volts named the Electricity Fairy. Inside its walls, it also had a 60-meter-long instrument that made the moon appear to be only 36 miles away.
What really interested people though was the talking motion pictures which, up until that point, had been silent. It was a turning point in the entertainment industry and would see the beginning of films becoming the dominant force in pop culture for many decades to come.
1900: Art Nouveau
An art style that arose around the 1880s, art nouveau aesthetics were used a lot in the architecture of Paris and on the posters of the exhibition at the time and so it really brought the movement to the global attention of the rest of the world helping launch it as a serious artistic aesthetic.
The Michelin restaurant guide also made a splash that year as did the matryoshka doll, or Russian nesting doll but that wasn't the only Russian entry that blew people away. At the coveted Grand Prix de Champagne judging, Russia blew away all of the French entries that year with their sparkling wine.
After World War I, and the Great Depression, France's ability to host major international exhibitions was severely limited but the 1937 was an attempt to regain former glories and still saw a whopping 30 million people come to the World Fair with the Musée de l’Homme and Palais de Tokyo both being created for the event.
Spain's Pavillion showed a daunting prediction of times soon to fall on the rest of Europe as it was still in the midst of a brutal civil war and showcased Pablo Picasso's (in)famous Guernica painting that was a reaction to the horrors of war.
No one quite knows what will be on show at Paris's next turn at hosting the world fair but it is thought that the event will link 12 French cities, including Lille, Strasbourg, and Marseille to a central Global village which will cover 200,000 and 300,000 square meters.
It is hoped that the exhibition will attract 40 to 60 million visitors, create 200,000 new jobs, and bring 25 billion euros into the region.