The World on View: Objects from Universal Expositions, 1851-1915

Exhibition Website

Apr 7 2018 - Jul 29 2018

This exhibition will be the culmination of a curatorial seminar on novelties and curiosities first displayed at the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s world fairs. Such events chronicled the period’s innovations in art, technology, and science. Many of the most crucial inventions were first shown to the public at world fairs: electricity, the telephone, and the bicycle, among other innovative artistic techniques and everyday objects. The exhibition will bring together such novelties from the universal expositions—like early sets of multi-ethnic dolls premiered in 1889, so-called “photo-sculptures” first executed at the 1867 Paris exhibition, fashionable goods with world-fair themes, and other innovations in material and visual culture of the period—stemming from local Philadelphia collections.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

Whether or not you go, the richly illustrated World's Fairs takes you into the exciting world of masterpieces and icons that often became world landmarks, and just as often were forgotten. As showcases of design, architecture, technology, industry, and politics, world's fairs have served as overviews of society's accomplishments as well as barometers of our optimism about the future. They have captured the imagination of the hundreds of millions of people who attend them, and are ongoing objects of fascination, as witnessed by the collectibles, web sites, histories, and memoirs that surround them.

World's Fairs looks back on 150 years of looking forward. Surprisingly, this is the first illustrated history of all major exhibitions, from the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in London in 1851 to the fair in Hanover in 2000. In all, 27 fairs are detailed through their histories, structures, and graphics. 

While many of the products and ideas promoted at past fairs never materialized, many became commonplace: television, for example, was first shown at the 1939 New York fair. Similarly, while many buildings and landscapes built for fairs have become worldwide icons-the Eiffel Tower, the Crystal Palace, the Barcelona Pavilion, the Seattle Space Needle, the Buckminster Fuller dome in Montreal-hundreds of splendid structures have been forgotten. World's Fairs uses original plans, design studies, period photo-graphs, and ephemera such as programs and postcards to recreate the visual richness, color, and excitement of world's fairs.

World's Fairs

  • Various Media
  • Various artists

Exhibition Venues & Dates