Origins of the Parisian Exposition Universelles

Out of an effort for countries to demonstrate their wealth and technological prowess to an international audience, the tradition of the World's Fair was born. The nineteenth century World's Fairs grew to draw tens of millions of visitors and displayed the host country as a force of industrial power. From a modern perspective, these events embody the political, industrial, and cultural advancements of the time. The structures built to house the exhibitions displayed the most progressive industrial techniques and were meant to be replaced with technological advances.

Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, hosted the first modern international exposition in London in 1851. His creation was "born out of the hope that all the peoples of the world might live in harmony, and… to tap new markets for British products" (Mattie 12). While the first World's Fair did little to establish widespread unity, the event fostered competition in industry and architectural innovation and also reminded the world of the superiority of British goods. The Crystal Palace, built to house the exhibition, was regarded by some as the greatest structure of the Industrial Revolution (Mattie 13). The structure's glass exterior left observers in awe and inspired numerous international imitations. The precedent set by London's initial World's Fair encouraged the grandeur of the events to come, as all countries wished to expand their trade networks and establish themselves as dominant players in the manufacturing realm.

Following the success of Prince Albert's event, many countries staged derivatives that failed to compete with the grandeur of the London World's Fair. France's foray into the realm of Expositions Universelles was the first to match the splendor of London. In an attempt to demonstrate the dominance of the Second Republic, the first Exposition Universelle took place in 1855 during the Crimean War under the reign of Napoleon III. Napoleon III worked closely with exhibition planners to solidify the reputation of the city and his leadership in the world's view. The exposition was held in the newly constructed Palais de l'Industrie on the Champ Elysees. While the exhibition's architecture was relatively uninventive, Napoleon III flaunted the achievements of Haussmannization by displaying the machines, cranes, and excavators that made the city's renovations possible (Stamper 332). This exposition elicited international acclaim for the newly modernized Paris and solidified its position as London's competition.

The 1855 Exposition Universelle inspired countless daunting French expositions to come, as Paris repeatedly hosted these events to demonstrate her dominance on an international scale. While the physical structures from this Exposition Universelle no longer remain on the Champ Elysees and there are no obvious markers commemorating the event, the Parisian tradition of displaying themselves as a force of industrial power continues today.


Palais de l'industrie

Palais de l'industrie

The Palais de l'industrie was the centerpiece of the 1855 Exposition Universelle, the first international exposition held in Paris. This was the first structure to match the grandeur of London's Chrystal Palace. | Source: Source: "Francais : Inauguration par Napol©on III, de l'exposition universelle de 1855 a Paris dans le Palais de l'Industrie." Wikimedia Commons, 13 May 2018.,_par_Napol©on_III.jpg View File Details Page

Palais de l'industrie

Palais de l'industrie

The Palais de l'industrie was located on the Champs Elysees, and represented the innovation and advancements capable by France. It's modern construction demonstrated France's superiority under the reign of Napoleon III. | Source: "File:Palais de l'industrie.jpg." Wikimedia Commons, 13 May 2018. View File Details Page

1855 Map of the Exposition Universelle

1855 Map of the Exposition Universelle

The 1855 Exposition Universelle took place on the Champ Elysees, the only modern exposition to use this area rather than the Champ de Mars. | Source: Le Magasin pittoresque. "File:Plan des sites de l'exposition universelle de Paris 1855.jpg" Wikimedia Commons, 13 May View File Details Page

A View of the Champs-Elys�©es

A View of the Champs-Elys©es

This is a general view of the Champs-Elys©es area as seen from the Arc de Triomphe. | Creator: JoAnn Michel View File Details Page

A Haussmannized Champs-Elys�©es

A Haussmannized Champs-Elys©es

This is another general view of the Champs-Elys©es area as seen from the Arc de Triomphe, with emphasis on the Haussmannized architectural pattern. | Creator: JoAnn Michel View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Brantley Sanders, “Origins of the Parisian Exposition Universelles,” W&L Paris, accessed May 21, 2022,

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