Also known as a universal exposition, or Expo, world’s fairs were created with the intent to showcase nations’ scientific, industrial and cultural enterprises all at once - in addition to a variety of amusements and entertainments - in one city at a time. The idea was, theoretically, to inspire a sense of ‘world community’ and peaceful rivalry among nations. The early fairs took as their themes some kind of historical event, such as the completion of the Panama canal or the anniversary of the founding of the United States, but then came to be remembered moreso for the historical moment in which they took place or the artefacts they left behind than for their intended thematics. The first world’s fair, known then as The Great Exhibition, took place in London in 1851. Crystal Palace - a sprawling, greenhouse-like structure - was erected to house the exhibition. While early world’s fairs introduced such now-crucial inventions as the first public toilet (and such obsolete inventions as the precursor to the fax-machine), the most impressive Expo relics tend to be the architecture erected as part of the exhibitions. The Eiffel Tower, for example, was built for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. Called an “eyesore” at the time, it is now the most iconic part of the Paris skyline. World’s fairs are still held to this day, but there hasn’t been one in North America since 1986 - Montreal’s Expo 86 - which could be why they have dropped out of our cultural consciousness. The SVA Pictures Collection World’s Fair & International Exposition folder is slim - it has around a couple dozen images - but it is packed with stunning pictures of some of the most striking architecture, inventions and pavillions that were built and showcased during the various world’s fairs. It also features one of the official guides to the 1933 fair.
Illustration of the Firestone Factory and Exhibition Building on the occasion of the Chicago World's Fair in 1933.
Chicago 1933
Map of attractions for the Chicago 1933 World's Fair.
Chicago 1933
Front cover of the "Official Guide Book" of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.
Chicago 1933
Fairground scene at the World's Fair.
Illustration of a World's Fair plaza.
Illustration of a large crowd celebrating the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.
Centennial Exhibition May 10, 1876
A crowd observes seven huge screens showing various locations.
Charles Eames, American National Exhibition, Moscow 1959
Various architectural developments, the most prominent is a curved structure with a high point, at the top of which is a sickle and hammer.
People seated in a bus-like structure designed to seem like a spaceship look out the large windows at an installation of planets.
Seattle, Ford Motor exhibition
Three women look surprised while demonstrating the gravity involved in a sloped floor.
United States Science Pavillion, 1962
A detailed architectural drawing of a city.
A couple are served at an outdoor restaurant. Behind them is a large structure designed to look like molecules on the plaza of the Brussels World's Fair.
Brussels World's Fair
Photograph of a structure called the "White City" at the Chicago World's Fair. The building is in style of Art Deco, although it predates the Art Deco movement by several decades.
Two images. Top: at the U.S. Pavilion several models pose on a building surrounded by a pond and a crowd. Below: crowds gather at the Soviet Pavilion, decorated with bronze statues and tall red columns.
Fireworks light up the sky behind a large structure built to resemble molecules.