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World's fair

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World's fair

A poster advertising the Brussels International Exposition
"Viking" replica of the Gokstad Viking ship at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair
The palace of the railways and great connexions at the International Exhibition of Hydropower and Tourism

A world's fair, world fair, world exposition or universal exposition (sometimes spelled expo for short) is a large public exhibition. These exhibitions vary in character and are held in varying parts of the world. The next World's fair will be Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy.

Since the entering into force of the 1928 Convention Relating to International Exhibitions, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE; English: International Exhibitions Bureau) has served as an international sanctioning body for world's fairs. BIE-approved fairs are of three types: universal, international, and specialized. They usually last from three weeks to six months.


World's fairs originated in the French tradition of national exhibitions, a tradition that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. This fair was soon followed by other national exhibitions in continental Europe, and eventually the United Kingdom.

The best-known 'first World Expo' was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom, in 1851, under the title "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations". The Great Exhibition, as it is often called, was an idea of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, and is usually considered as the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It influenced the development of several aspects of society, including art-and-design education, international trade and relations, and tourism.[1] These events have resulted in a remarkable form of Prince Albert's life history, one that continues to be reflected in London architecture in a number of ways, including in the Albert Memorial later erected to the Prince. This expo was the most obvious precedent for the many international exhibitions, later called world's fairs, that have continued to be held to the present time.

Since their inception in 1851, the character of world expositions has evolved. Three eras can be distinguished: the era of industrialization, the era of cultural exchange, and the era of nation branding.[2]

Industrialization (1851–1938)

The first era could be called the era of "industrialization" and covered, roughly, the period from 1800 to 1938. In these days, world expositions were especially focused on trade, and were famous for the display of technological inventions and advancements. World expositions were the platforms where the state-of-the-art in science and technology from around the world were brought together. The world expositions of 1851 London, 1853 New York, 1862 London, Philadelphia (1876), 1889 Paris, 1893 Chicago, 1900 Paris, 1901 Buffalo, 1904 St. Louis, 1915 San Francisco, and 1933-34 Chicago were landmarks in this respect. Inventions such as the telephone were first presented during this era. An important part of the image of world's fairs stems from this first era.

Cultural exchange (1939–1987)

The 1939–40 New York World's Fair diverged from the original focus of the world's fair expositions. From then on, world's fairs adopted specific cultural themes; they forecasted a better future for society. Technological innovations were no longer the primary exhibits at fairs. The theme of the 1939 fair was "Building the World of Tomorrow"; at the 1964–65 New York World's Fair, it was "Peace Through Understanding"; at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, it was "Man and His World". The fairs encouraged effective intercultural communication for the exchange of innovation.

The 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal was promoted under the name Expo 67. Event organizers retired the term world's fair in favor of expo. (The Montreal Expos, a former Major League Baseball team, was named for the 1967 fair.)[3]

Nation branding (1988–present)

From Wally Olins, Spain used Expo '92 and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona in the same year to underline its new position as a modern and democratic country and present itself as a prominent member of the European Union and the global community.

At Expo 2000 Hanover, where countries created their own architecture, the average pavilion investment was about €12 million.[4] Given these costs, governments are sometimes hesitant to participate, because benefits are often assumed not to outweigh the costs. Tangible effects are difficult to measure, but an independent study for the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2000 estimated that the pavilion (which cost around €35 million) generated around €350 million of potential revenues for the Dutch economy. It also identified several key success factors for world-exposition pavilions in general.[5]

Today's world expositions embody elements of all three eras. They present new inventions, facilitate cultural exchange based on a theme, and are used for city, region and nation branding.


St. Louis 1904 World's Fair Boer War program. Battle recreations took 2–3 hours and included several Generals and 600 veteran soldiers from both sides of the war. At the conclusion of the show, the Boer General Christiaan de Wet would escape on horseback by leaping from a height of 35 feet (11 m) into a pool of water.

Presently, there are two types of world expositions: registered and recognized (sometimes unofficially known as "major" and "minor" fairs, respectively). Registered exhibitions are the biggest category events. Previously, registered expositions were called "Universal Expositions". Even though this name lingers on in public memory, it is no longer in use as an official term. At registered exhibitions, participants generally build their own pavilions. They are therefore the most extravagant and most expensive expos. Their duration may be between six weeks and six months. Since 1995, the interval between two registered expositions has been at least five years. Most recently, the registered exposition Expo 2010 in Shanghai was held from May 1 through November 1, 2010.

Recognized expositions are smaller in scope and investments and generally shorter in duration; between three weeks and three months. Previously, these expositions were called "International or Specialized Expositions" but these terms are no longer used officially. Their total surface area must not exceed 25 ha and organizers must build pavilions for the participating states, free of rent, charges, taxes and expenses. The largest country pavilions may not exceed 1,000 m2. Only one recognized exhibition can be held between two registered exhibitions.[6]

There are also two types of auxiliary expositions: the horticultural exhibitions, which are joint BIE and AIPH-sanctioned 'garden' fair in which participants present gardens and garden pavilions; and the Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture.[7]

"Registered Expositions"

Registered expositions encompass universal themes that affect the full gamut of human experience, and international and corporate participants are required to adhere to the theme in their representations. Registered expositions are held every 5 years because they are more expensive as they require total design of pavilion buildings from the ground up. As a result, nations compete for the most outstanding or memorable structure—recent examples include Japan, France, Morocco & Spain at Expo '92. Recent Registered Expositions include Brussels Expo '58, Montreal Expo 67, Osaka Expo '70, and Seville Expo '92. Sometimes prefabricated structures are also used to minimize costs for developing countries or for countries from a geographical block to share space (i.e. Plaza of the Americas at Seville '92).

The only Registered (Universal) exposition to be held without BIE approval was the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair.[8] The sanctioning organization at Paris denied them "official" status because its president, [9] Frederick Pittera, a producer of international fairs and exhibitions and author of the history of world's fairs in the Encyclopædia Britannica and Compton Encyclopedia), was commissioned by Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. of New York City in 1959 to prepare the first feasibility studies for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Pittera was joined in his study by Austrian architect Victor Gruen (Inventor of the 'Shopping Mall'). The Eisenhower Commission ultimately awarded the world's fair bid to New York City against several major U.S. cities.[10] Since the turn of the 21st century the BIE has moved to sanction expos only every five years; following the numerous expos of the 1980s and 1990s, some see this as a means to cut down potential expenditure by participating nations. The move was also seen by some as an attempt to avoid conflicting with the Summer Olympics. The rule may apply to all expos, or it may end up that universal expositions will be restricted to every five years or so, with international or specialized expositions in the in-between years for countries wishing to celebrate a special event. The most recent universal expo was Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

"Recognized Expositions" or International or Specialized Expositions

Panoramic view of Expo 2012 Yeosu

International expositions are usually united by a common theme—such as 'Transportation' (Vancouver Expo 86), or, 'Leisure in the Age of Technology' (Brisbane, Expo '88). Such themes are narrower than the wider scope of universal expositions.

The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, popularly known as Expo '85 was held in the city of Tsukuba located near Tokyo. This Exposition is more formally known as "The International Science Technology Exposition".

Specialized and international expositions are usually smaller in scale and cheaper to run for the host committee and participants because the architectural fees are lower and they only have to rent the space from the host committee, usually with the prefabricated structure already completed. Countries then have the option of 'adding' their own colours, design etc. to the outside of the prefabricated structure and filling in the inside with their own content. One example of this is China, which has often chosen to add a Chinese archway in the front of its prefabricated pavilions to symbolize the nation (Expo '88, Expo '92, Expo '93).

The 2008 International Exhibition was hosted by the Spanish city of Zaragoza with the theme "Water and the Sustainable Development".

Expo 2012 was held in Yeosu, South Korea, with the theme "The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities".[11]

List of expositions

List of official world expositions (Universal, International/Specialised, Horticultural) according to the Bureau International des Expositions[12] and ExpoMuseum:[13] International Registered Exhibitions now held every five years are in bold. Upcoming world expositions are in italics.

International Horticultural Exhibition

The BIE, since 1960, grants recognition to the International Horticultural Exhibitions approved by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) subject to it meeting certain criteria including being approved by the BIE general assembly.[15]

And a list of these International Horticultural Exhibitions (upcoming in italics):


The iconic Space Needle and Monorail depicted on this 1962 stamp are survivors.

The majority of the structures are temporary and are dismantled after the fair closes. Landmark towers from several fairs are notable exceptions. By far the most famous of these is the Eiffel Tower, built for the Exposition Universelle (1889) and now the most recognized symbol of its host city Paris; some contemporary critics wanted it dismantled after the fair's conclusion.

Other major structures that were held over from these fairs:

Seattle - World's Fair sign at 47th and Aurora, 1962
  • 1962: The Space Needle, theme building of the Century 21 Exposition commonly known as the Seattle World's Fair, still stands as Seattle's iconic landmark. The Seattle Center Monorail, the other widely known "futuristic" feature of the fair, still operates daily. The US pavilion became the Pacific Science Center.
  • 1964: The Unisphere, theme building of the second New York World's Fair, still stands on its original site in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York City.
  • 1967: Among the structures still standing from Expo 67 in Montreal are Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67, Buckminster Fuller's American pavilion, and the French pavilion (now the Montreal Casino).
  • 1968: San Antonio kept the Tower of the Americas, the Institute of Texan Cultures and the Convention Center from HemisFair '68.
  • 1974: Spokane still has its Riverfront Park that was created for Expo '74—the park remains a popular and iconic part of Spokane's downtown.
  • 1982: The Sunsphere from the Knoxville World's Fair remains as a feature of Knoxville's skyline.
  • 1984: The main pavilions of the 1984 New Orleans World's Fair became the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which is also known for its use as a shelter of last resort during Hurricane Katrina.
  • 1986: In Vancouver, many Expo 86 projects were designed as legacy projects. Of note are the Skytrain, Science World and Canada Place.
  • 1988: The Skyneedle, the symbol tower of Expo '88 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, still stands. Other survivors are the Nepal Peace Pagoda of the Nepalese representation, now at the transformed World Expo '88 site South Bank Parklands, and the Japan Pond and Garden from the Japanese representation, now at the Brisbane Mount Cooth-tha Botanic Gardens.
  • 1992: The pavilions of Expo '92 in Seville had been converted into a technological square and a theme park.
  • 1998: The main buildings of Expo '98 in Lisbon were completely integrated into the city itself and many of the art exhibition pieces still remain.
  • 2005: The home of Satsuki & Mei Kusakabe, built for the 2005 Expo in Aichi, remains operating at its original site in Morikoro Park and is a popular tourist attraction.

Some World's Fair sites became (or reverted to) parks incorporating some of the expo elements, such as:

Some pavilions have been moved overseas intact:

The Brussels Expo '58 relocated many pavilions within Belgium: the pavilion of Jacques Chocolats moved to the town of Diest to house the new town swimming pool. Another pavilion was relocated to Willebroek and has been used as dance hall Carré[24] ever since. One smaller pavilion still stands on the impressive boulevard towards the Atomium: the restaurant "Salon 58" in the pavilion of Comptoir Tuilier.

Many exhibitions and rides created by Walt Disney and his WED Enterprises company for the 1964 New York World's Fair (which was held over into 1965) were moved to Disneyland after the closing of the Fair. Many of the rides, including "it's a small world", "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln", and "Carousel of Progress" (since moved to the Walt Disney World Resort and updated), are still in operation.

Disney had contributed so many exhibits to the New York fair in part because the corporation had originally envisioned a "permanent World's Fair" at the Flushing site. That concept instead came to fruition with the Disney theme park Epcot, an extension of the Walt Disney World Resort, near Orlando, Florida. Epcot has many of the characteristics of a typical universal exposition: national pavilions, as well as exhibits concerning technology and/or the future, along with more typical amusement park rides. Meanwhile, several of the 1964 attractions, relocated to Disneyland, have been duplicated at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Occasionally other bits and pieces of the Fairs remain. In the New York subway system, signs directing people to Flushing Meadows, Queens remain from the 1964–65 event. In the Montreal subway at least one tile artwork of its theme, "Man and His World", remains. Also, a seemingly endless supply of souvenir items from Fair visits can be found, and in the United States, at least, can often be bought at garage or estate sales. Many of these events also produced postage stamps and commemorative coins. The 1904 Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the III Olympiad, were held in conjunction with the 1904 St. Louis Fair, although no particular tie-in seems to have been made. (The 1900 Paris Exposition was also loosely tied to the Olympic Games.)

Future potential expositions


Expo 2015 will be held in Milan, Italy.


Expo 2017 will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan.

2017 will see a recognized exposition and two cities bid by the cut-off date for bidding: Liège, Belgium[25] and Astana, Kazakhstan.[25]

Several Canadian cities had been interested in 2017 as it is the year of Canada's 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial. In 2007, a Vancouver, British Columbia based group (Expo 17 Inc) publicly unveiled a 51-page proposal[26] to stage a sustainable "hybrid" expo in Montreal, consisting of an expo approved and recognized by the BIE, a horticultural expo, and a housing expo. Following a recent decision by Canadian Heritage which allows only the city of Edmonton, Alberta to bid for an expo, however, the group is now pursuing alternative events to mark Canada's sesquicentennial.[27] Meanwhile, Edmonton had been actively developing a bid for Edmonton EXPO 2017 since 2008, but failed to receive Federal funding in support of it. In May 2009, Calgary announced to Canadian Heritage it would begin to develop a bid for 2017 as well, but withdrew in November 2009. Ottawa, Canada's capital city, had also considered bidding for 2017.[28] As of November 2009, Edmonton was the only Canadian bidder.[29]

Thessaloniki unsuccessfully bid for the 2008 World EXPO, this time won by Zaragoza in Spain; another planned bid for 2017 was announced in September 2006 and was in full development but they did not make a bid.


Expo 2020 will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and will see a registered exposition.

The bidding process for this larger sized exposition formally began in 2011, with five cities being selected to participate in the final round of votes:

Other participating cities and countries that were not selected for the final voting process to host Expo 2020, or did not submitted bids for consideration by the BIE:

  • The United States has had several citizen efforts directed at bringing a World's Fair to the country, even though it is not a member of the Bureau of International Expositions. These efforts included the following cities:
    • Houston – "Inspired Innovation"[41]
    • New York – "Showcasing the World"[42]
    • San Francisco – "Interculture: Celebrating the World's Cultures while Creating New Ones through Interaction and Exchange."[43]
    • Las Vegas – "The future of my future," according to the Wall Street Journal[44]
  • Philippines did not bid for the Expo 2020 although Manila had been considered a possible contender under the theme "Manila, Celebrating Light and Life"[45]
  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia has been quoted by media reports[47] as another potential candidate for the Australian 2020 bid.


Expo 2023 | The Minnesota World's Fair is in the process of bid development submission to the Bureau of International Expositions to host an endorsed World's Fair event in the United States. More information on this collective effort is available at "[48]

See also


  1. ^ John R. Davies in Findling and Pelle (2008), "Encyclopedia of World's Fairs and Expositions", pp. 13–14
  2. ^ Walvis, Tjaco, ed. (April 2004). "Three eras of World Expositions: 1851–present.". Cosmopolite: Stardust World Expo & National Branding Newsletter (Amsterdam: Stardust New Ventures) (5): 1. 
  3. ^ Ted Dykstra (Director) (2004). Expo'67: Back to the future (DVD). Canada: CBC Home Video. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Tjaco Walvis (2003), "Building Brand Locations", Corporate Reputation Review, Vol.5, No.4, pp. 358–366
  6. ^ Based on: BIE Convention
  7. ^ Anna Jackson. EXPO International Exposititions 1851–2010. p. 122.  
  8. ^ Harrison Jacobs (2014-04-22). "15 Gorgeous Retro-Future Photos From The 1964 World's Fair".  
  9. ^ Findling and Pelle, Encyclopedia of World's Fairs and Expositions, 9780786434169 p330
  10. ^ "Building the Fair - Five Men". Retrieved 2014-08-01. 
  11. ^ "Expo 2012: The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities". Expo 2012: Yeosu Korea. International Exposition 2012 Yeosu Korea. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Official Site of the Bureau International des Expositions". 2013-06-27. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  13. ^ "The World's Fair Museum". ExpoMuseum. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  14. ^ "The UAE has been elected As the Host Country of the World Expo 2020". Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  15. ^ "International Horticultural Exhibition". 2011-04-18. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  16. ^ "Exhibitions, actual programme". AIPH. 2011-01-11. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  17. ^ "Crystal Palace: Joseph Paxton - Transported by moving company". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  18. ^ PPIE Found Remnants: Architecture: Japanese Gates and Pagoda. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  19. ^ "Balboa Park History". Retrieved May 16, 2013. 
  20. ^ Expo, International Expositions 1851–2010,Anna Jackson, 2008
  21. ^ "Home - South Bank - Visitor Info - What's On - Shopping - Dining - Attractions and more". Visit South Bank. 2009-06-04. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  22. ^ "Artequin". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  23. ^ "The UAE in World Expos | World Expos | Expo 2020, Dubai, UAE". Retrieved December 5, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Home - Carré". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  25. ^ a b "Candidatures International Expo 2017". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  26. ^ "Expo 17 Proposal" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  27. ^ Gordon Kent (21 June 2012). "City may bid to host international conferences of religions". Postmedia Network Inc. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  28. ^ "World Fair in Ottawa 2017". 2007-08-02. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  29. ^ Kent, Gordon (2009-12-01). "A year-long party for $2.3B". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  30. ^ Oliveira, Elida (24 October 2020). "Deu na Imprensa—Disputa acirrada" (in Portuguese). Portal da Prefeitura da Cidade de São Paulo. 
  31. ^ Hamilton, Louis (June 18, 2013). "Yekaterinburg presents city’s bid for 2020 World Expo". Yekaterinburg News. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  32. ^ "Overview | Expo 2020 Dubai, UAE". Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  33. ^ "EXPO 2020 için büyük yarış - Yeni Asır". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  34. ^ "Thailand wants to host World Expo 2020". 2010-06-19. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  35. ^ "Thailand, World Expo 2020: Ayutthaya to be nominated as World Expo site". 2011-04-05. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  36. ^ "Thailand 2020 World Expo : Three candidates". 2010-09-05. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  37. ^ "Thailand World expo 2020 Ayutthaya via YOUTUBE". 2011-04-13. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  38. ^ TCEB and Ayutthaya declare confidence in officially bidding for Thailand to host the World Expo 2020
  39. ^ Sritama, Suchat (2011-04-05). "Thailand, World Expo 2020 : Ayutthaya chosen as Thailand's bid city". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  40. ^ "Ayutthaya disqualified for World Expo 2020". 2013-06-12. 
  41. ^ "World's Fair EXPO 2020". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  42. ^ """New York City 2020 | "Showcasing The World. Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  43. ^ "Expo 2020 Silicon Valley". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  44. ^ Michaels, Daniel (February 19, 2009). "The U.S. Can't Host a World Expo, and Fans Say That's No Fair". The Wall Street Journal. 
  45. ^ "ExpoMuseum / potential bids for 2020". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  46. ^ "Captain Cook 250th Anniversary Celebration Citizens' Committee". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  47. ^ "Who stole our mojo? asks Sydney".  
  48. ^


  • Alexander C. T. Geppert: Fleeting Cities. Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Findling, John E. and Kimberly D. Pelle, ed. Encyclopedia of World's Fairs and Expositions Jefferson, NC and London:McFarland, 2008.

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