The subject of World’s Fairs came up at the Christmas Dinner table last month. Some thought there hadn’t been one in years or at least since 2000 in London . We all cited the Seattle Space Needle (1962 World’s Fair), the London Millenium Dome and the London Eye (2000 World’s Fair) as permanent structures in cities that hosted the Fairs. I don’t think any of us realized just how long there have been World’s Fairs and how many there had been since 2000.
First a word about World’s Fairs or World Expos: The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) is an intergovernmental organization created to supervise international exhibitions (also known as Expos or World’s Fairs) falling under the jurisdiction of the Convention Relating to International Exhibitions. Only member-countries can host a BIE-sanctioned world’s fair or exposition.
As you may notice by the list at left (part of the full list of BIE members), the United States is not part of the BIE. The U.S. withdrew its membership in 2001, primarily because funds were not allocated by Congress for this purpose. (Membership costs a mere $25,000.) This page provides more information and links to contact Congress.
The first officially (retrospectively) sanctioned world’s fair/exposition was the 1851 Great Exposition in London. There were, however, several prior world’s fairs/expositions, beginning with 1756’s First Exhibition in London. There were several fairs and expositions throughout the late 18th century and into the first half of the 19th century.
The first time a world’s fair or exposition was held in the United States was New York’s American Institute Fair in 1829. It would not be until 1853 that the US would host the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations. The fair featured its own glass and iron exhibition building – the New York Crystal Palace – directly inspired by London’s.
The last time a World Exposition or World’s Fair was held in the United States was the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, a world’s fair held in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Another famous world’s fair held in the U.S. was the 1964New York World’s Fair. This fair was plagued with financial mismanagement. Also, despite the fact that BIE insisted that all officially sanctioned fairs have a midway, the Fair organizers refused to incorporate an amusement midway.)
The next World’s Fair/Expo is Expo 2012 in Yeosu, South Korea, from May 12, 2012 through August 12, 2012.
I had no idea there were so many world’s fairs and expositions.
Thank you for reading.