The Great Exhibition was an international exhibition held in Hyde Park London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851 and the first in a series of World's Fair exhibitions of culture and industry that were to be a popular 19th century feature.
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations was organised by Prince Albert and Henry Cole as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It can be argued that the Great Exhibition was mounted in response to the highly successful French exhibition of 1844, the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 . Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, was an enthusiastic promoter of a self-financing exhibition; the government was persuaded to form the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to establish the viability of hosting such an exhibition.
A special building, nicknamed The Crystal Palace, was designed by Joseph Paxton (with support from civil engineer William Henry Barlow) to house the show; an architecturally adventurous building, constructed from cast iron-frame components and glass made almost exclusively in Birmingham and Smethwick, which was an enormous success. The committee overseeing its construction included Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The massive glass house was 1848 feet (about 563 m) long by 454 feet (about 138 m) wide, and went from plans to grand opening in just nine months. The building was later moved and reerected in an enlarged form at Sydenham in south London, an area that was renamed Crystal Palace.
The Great Exhibition made a surplus of £186,000 which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum which were all built in the area to the south of the exhibition, nicknamed "Albertopolis", alongside the Imperial Institute.
The exhibition caused controversy at the time. Some conservatives feared that the mass of visitors might become a revolutionary mob, while radicals such as Karl Marx saw the exhibition as an emblem of the capitalist fetishism of commodities. Today the 'Great Exhibition' has become a symbol of the Victorian Age.
The America's Cup yachting event began with a race held in conjunction with the Great Exhibition.
- Gibbs-Smith, Charles Harvard The Great Exhibition of 1851, 2nd edition, London: HMSO, 1981.
- Greenhalgh, Paul Ephemeral vistas: the expositions universelles, great exhibitions and world's fairs, 1851-1939, Manchester University Press, 1988