Exhibition World Issue 2 — 2020 - Page 54

Pages from history see, among other exhibits, the steam- powered generators which supplied electricity for all the pavilions; and Thomas Edison’s “moving boardwalk”. It was there that inventor Rudolf Diesel first demonstrated his seemingly unassuming eponymous machine (then running on peanut oil) that was to change the world: by 1939, a quarter of global sea trade was fuelled by diesel power. Diesel himself was not destined to see his machine’s triumph, having mysteriously vanished from a cross- Channel ship as he was heading to a meeting in London in 1913. But I digress. Back in 1900, long queues gathered at the entrance to the Palace of Optics, with the Great Paris Telescope – then the world’s largest – inside. It could 54 Issue 2 2020 Above: The Pavilions of the Nations, III, Exposition Universal, Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division Below: Paris Exposition: Palace of Optics, Paris, France, 1900. Brooklyn Museum Archives Right: View of the Pont Alexandre III toward Les Invalides, Brown University Library enlarge the image of the moon 10,000 times, and the visitors to the pavilion (two thousand at a time) could see it on a 144sqm screen. Altogether, 21 of the 33 official pavilions were set aside for science and technology. On top of the ‘official’ pavilions, the Universal Exhibition hosted 40 national ones. Those were temporary and, unlike the former, mostly designed in the Belle Epoch and Art Nouveaux styles, reflected the architecture of the exhibiting country. The Russian pavilion, for example was modelled on the outlines of the Moscow Kremlin, the USA’s on the Capitol Building, and the British (designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens) resembled a Jacobean mansion. Buddhist-temple-like Chinese and Japanese pavilions were, reportedly, so beautiful that they were both purchased afterwards by the King of Belgium and transferred to Brussels. A separate stretch of the Universal Exhibition’s territory was reserved for the so-called Colonial Pavilions, representing French, Dutch and Russian colonies and dependencies in Africa and Asia. Neither a country nor even a dependency, the up-and-coming sculptor August Rodin had his own pavilion, in which his famous composition The Gates of Hell was first displayed, alongside his other sculptures. One exhibit – part of the Agriculture Pavilion – capable of vying in popularity with the Palace of Optics was, for reasons that do not need explaining, the Champagne Palace, where free samples of French champagne were on offer. Like all great history-making exhibitions, the 1900 ‘Exposition’ was accompanied by some truly momentous events: the showing of the first-ever motion pictures; the opening of the Paris Metro, with its distinctive Art Nouveau entryways; and the 1900 Paris Olympic Games – the first ever held outside Greece. Among the less momentous events was the first (and so far the last) gathering, at which the mayors of all French cities, villages and towns – 20,777 in total – sat down together for an unhurried meal in the tents erected in the Tuileries Gardens. The other noteworthy (for some) occasion was the awarding of a gold medal for excellence to one of the American exhibits - Campbell’s Soup. This medal still features on some of the company’s soup labels. It is always with regret that I close the 1900 Paris Exhibition Guide Book. Despite all the gruesome events that followed, most of the inventions and ideals it introduced have survived intact. Wars, revolutions and natural disasters aside, the fact remains: the modern world wouldn’t have been quite the same without it. w w w.exhibitionworld.co.uk