Hyde Park. London. 1851. The scene had been set for the greatest showing of exotic wonders in history: the Great Exhibition. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert oversaw the arrival of 100,000 various objects from across the world. Since travel to these regions was virtually impossible for the average British citizen at the time, the Great Exhibition presented the unique and unprecedented opportunity for everyone (six million visitors to be exact) to take part in a global voyage — without leaving London. Cool, right?
Diamonds and jewels from India, porcelain vases from Russia, tapestries and silks from France, along with thousands of objects from Britain itself (there were about 15,000 contributors in all). Also on display were several inventions that later swept the nation by storm. The printing press, the earliest version of the bicycle, the steam engine, and perhaps more interestingly, a early form of what is now known as braille for the blind, a defensive umbrella and folding pianos for yachtsmen (!).
In short, the Great Exhibition was awesome. Even more awesome? The building which housed it, known as the Crystal Palace. Sounds fancy, but it’s appropriate for the steel glass-house like structure. Using the newly invented method of using large sheets of glass, the building was a visual splendor in itself. A building made of glass? Cool stuff, no doubt.
Today, this might seem trivial since we have our own crystal palaces of sorts. The internet, television, and even our circle of family and friends can provide us the same fascination that the Great Exhibition once did. But for a moment, it’s exciting to imagine the prospect of actually viewing the world all in one place. And I like to think that if the Great Exhibition were to happen today, it might attract the same kind of interest as the 1851 version (science/history museums, anyone?). That we can still be intrigued by the simplest and smallest of things. It’s all in our perspective I guess, but I think the potential for technology and overall progress is one to be applauded. Heartily.
Photo By Louis Haghe (1806-1885) (Artfinder.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons