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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

story:The Heroic Age

scene:Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition

Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition
Images with this text:
A view a the lavish interior of the Great Exhibition, 1851, from George Baxter, Gems of the Great Exhibition, 1851.
Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition
The decision to hold a 'Great Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations' in 1851 was made during 1849. This meant there were less than two years to organise the displays and, more crucially, design and construct a suitable building for the site in Hyde Park. The Exhibition Commissioners arranged a competition and 245 plans were submitted. They were all rejected as unsuitable.
The exhibition plan was saved by Joseph Paxton, engineer and landscape gardener for the Duke of Devonshire's estates. In June 1850 Paxton came up with the idea of a prefabricated building of glass and iron.
In just over a week Paxton and his staff produced a complete set of working drawings while the contractors, Fox and Henderson, prepared full estimates.
They undertook to complete the building by the end of 1850. Because it was of modular design (using large numbers of just a few standardised structural components) it was constructed at awesome speed. Punch, the weekly London periodical, nicknamed the building 'the Crystal Palace' in its issue for 2 November 1850 and the name stuck. By a superhuman effort everything was completed just in time for the Royal opening on 1 May 1851.
Images with this text:
A computer simulation of the exterior of Crystal Palace produced by the University of Virginia.
Exterior of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, looking west, lithograph by Phillip Brannan,1851.
The Exhibition
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the first World's Fair and the world's first industrial exhibition. In more recent times it has come to be seen as the defining moment for Britain in the nineteenth century.
Trade fairs and exhibitions featuring industrial progress had been held in many European centres for many years. London's exhibition, set for summer 1851, was to be altogether larger and more spectacular than any of these. It was organised by a Royal Commission under the patronage of Prince Albert. Henry Cole, a civil servant, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to turn the plans into reality.
On 1 May 1851 Queen Victoria declared the Great Exhibition open. It was an instant success. On display were industrial products and commodities from all over the world. A large and popular section in the British part of the exhibition was called 'Machinery in Motion'. This assembly of working machinery was one of the highlights of the show and was praised by a contemporary writer as 'a veritable acting industrial encyclopaedia'.
For five months, six days a week, the public flocked to see the exhibition. When it closed on the evening of 11 October 1851, over six million visitors had passed through the turnstiles.
Images with this text:
Interior of the Great Exhibition, 1851, from George Baxter, Gems of the Great Exhibition, 1851.
Explore the Exhibition
British and British Empire products were shown in the western end of the building and products from other parts of the world in the eastern portion.
Coalbrookdale Gates (Waiting for the Queen)
On Thursday 1 May 1851 Queen Victoria came to declare the Exhibition open.
Image with this text:
View of the 'ornamental park entrance of cast iron' made by the Coalbrookdale Company.From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854.
Transept
Osler displayed a Crystal Fountain.
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A view looking north along the Transept. Osler's Crystal Fountain can be seen in the middle distance.From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854.
America
The United States had a prominent place at the far end of the Eastern Nave. They signposted their location in characteristic fashion. On the balcony was one of several organs used for providing background music. The Americans draped this with 'Old Glory', their national flag, topped off with a huge model of the bald eagle.In the middle of their display was a full-size model of Rider's improved suspension truss bridge, made by the New York Iron Bridge Company. On it was placed a 'trophy' of vulcanised India rubber made by the Goodyear Rubber Company.
Images with this text:
The American display from the north-west end. From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851,1854.
British Nave
The western end of the building, about half the total exhibition space, was given over to British products. The larger of them were placed along the Nave, known as Main Avenue West.
Prominent was a dioptric revolving lighthouse made by Chance Brothers & Co., and a Colossal 'Head of a Horse' from Baron Marochetti'. Other prominent items were the Ross astronomical telescope and the ornamental rustic dome in cast iron enclosing an iron casting of John Bell's statue 'The Eagle Slayer', all made by the Coalbrookdale Company.
Images with this text:
This view looks from the far (west) end towards the central Transept. From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854. De la Rue's stationery stand and envelope machine
At the time of the Exhibition, Thomas De la Rue & Co were papermakers, printers and bookbinders (they are now the world's largest commercial security printer and papermaker, producing more than 150 national currencies).
On their stand they showed an envelope-folding machine, invented by Edwin Hill and Warren De la Rue in 1845.
Images with this text:
De la Rue's stationery stand and envelope machine.From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854.
Machinery
In this section was a railway turnplate and one of the hydraulic presses used for raising the Britannia Bridge (made by the Bank Quay Foundry Co, Warrington). A line of railway locomotives are also on display.
Images with this text:
View looking west. From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854.
Moving machinery
J. Whitworth & Co had a very large display within the 'Machinery in Motion' section, in the north-east part of the building. On display was Whitworth's patent self-acting duplex railway-wheel turning-lathe: 'Four cutting tools are employed, two acting upon opposite sides of each wheel. Both wheels are turned at once upon their axle, and the slide rests are readily removable in order to get the wheels into and out of the lathe'.
The tyres of railway wheels require turning down periodically to restore the correct profile against the running rails. Each pair of wheels was fixed tight on its axle, so the ability to deal with both wheels simultaneously reduces significantly the time taken on the job.
Images with this text:
The 'Machinery in motion' section.From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854.
Exterior, coals, etc.
Large specimens of various raw materials were displayed outside the building at the west end. They included a granite obelisk and base, made by Richard Hosken, and a monster block of coal weighing 24 tonnes [British measurement], brought from the Duke of Devonshire's mine at Staveley.
An engine house supplied the high-pressure steam for driving the machinery in motion.
Images with this text:
The exterior.From Dickinsons' comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, 1854.

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