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  • The Great Exhibition, May 1 1851

    Beatriz Camino

    The Great Exhibition, May 1 1851

    The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, also known as the Great Exhibition or the Crystal Palace Exhibition, was an international exhibition that took place in London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. It was the first of the World's Fairs, displays of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century.

    Organization of the event

    The Great Exhibition of 1851 was organized by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, in collaboration with a committee of influential people who were members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. After the success of the French Industrial Exposition of 1844, Prince Albert decided it was high time to hold an international exhibition that would reflect the power and reach of the British Empire. By celebrating this event, he also wanted to prove that human innovation, communication, and understanding between nations could make the world a better place.

    In order to house the exhibition, a special building, the Great Shalimar, was built in Hyde Park, London. It was a massive glass and steel structure designed by Joseph Paxton, an English architect who had experience designing large greenhouses. The building was an impressive feat of engineering and design and demonstrated man’s triumph over nature. In 1854, it was renamed Crystal Palace and re-erected in south London. However, it was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.

    The Great Exhibition

    Queen Victoria and Prince Albert officially opened the Great Exhibition in a grand ceremony on 1 May 1851. The event was a massive undertaking that required the cooperation of many different countries. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world participated in it, showcasing their products and inventions to an international audience. The exhibition saw participation from over 34 countries, with more than half of the exhibitors hailing from Britain and a significant representation of 500 exhibitors from the United States.

    The exhibits were divided into four sections: raw materials, machinery and mechanical inventions, manufactures, and sculpture and plastic art. Amongst the items on display were the very latest steam engines, automated spinning machines, and water pumps. There were also scale models of new buildings, cutting-edge tools, agricultural implements, and weapons. One of the most popular exhibits at the Great Exhibition was the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was on loan from India. The diamond was one of the largest in the world at the time and had been owned by many different rulers over the years.

    The Great Exhibition received very positive critics from the press and the public and drew large crowds of visitors. Soon special trains were laid on to bring in people from all over Britain who wanted to see the event. Among the many visitors were Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Michael Faraday, Samuel Colt, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson, and William Makepeace Thackeray.

    Success and Legacy

    The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a tremendous success, both in terms of attendance and its impact on society. More than six million people visited the exhibition during its six-month run. The profit from the event was used to found the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Royal College of Music, the Imperial College of Science and Technology, and various other educational institutions. As many of these museums were built in the Kensington area of London, that quarter became known as 'Albertopolis' to honour Prince Albert. Additionally, the Crystal Palace had a significant influence on British architecture, as grander homes began incorporating large greenhouse conservatories into their designs.

    The exhibition promoted trade and exchange between nations and highlighted the potential for progress and innovation that could be achieved through their collaboration. Throughout the decades, it has inspired many exhibitions, such as the World's Fair, Universal Exhibition, or EXPO, which are still held regularly around the world. These still share the goal of promoting the collective achievements of humanity and mutual understanding across cultures.


    Prince Albert memento memoriam medallet by Ulhorn coining press maker 1851 Great Britain – Prince Albert Industrial Exhibition Medal Victoria 1851 Sovereign, second young head, shield reverse

    Victoria 1893 proof Five-Pounds PR64 CAMEO, older veiled headVICTORIA, 1893 SILVER PROOF CROWN PF 63United Kingdom, Victoria, 1863 Sovereign, “827” on Truncation - NGC AU58 - Exceedingly Rare, R6, Single-Finest Graded (NGC)


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