Stemming from the medieval tradition of agricultural and trade fairs, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London in 1851, was the first international gathering of its kind, and widely regarded as the first World’s Fair. Over time, World’s Fairs began to incorporate the type of entertainment and fun typically associated with festivals and carnivals (such as shows, song and dance performances, and rides), but remained an industrial event and commercial at the base.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century, countries and businesses used World’s Fairs as opportunities to make visitors to rapidly industrializing countries more comfortable and confident in manufactured goods. In some cases, companies have even built fully functioning small-scale versions of their factories as part of their exhibit.
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But the highlight and the most anticipated part of these world fairs was the introduction of new technologies and inventions. This gave visitors the chance to see the latest products and developments before the rest of the public, and gave countries, manufacturers and inventors an international stage from which to showcase their achievements. And while many of these inventions never caught on (it turns out there isn’t much demand for robot smoking robots), there are others that continue to emerge. be used daily. Here are six examples of everyday inventions that made their debut at World’s Fairs.
The first World’s Fair in the United States was held in Philadelphia in 1876 and also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the country. Officially known as the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mining, inventors from the 37 countries participating in the fair showcased their latest innovations, including a Scottish-born vocal physiology professor at Boston University named Alexander Graham Bell. .
After years of attempts, Bell achieved his goal of transmitting sound over a wire, and on March 7, 1876, obtained his first US patent for a device he called an “improvement in telegraphy,” now better. known as the phone. Although he tested the technology with colleagues in Boston, Bell’s first public demonstration of his phone took place a few months later, on June 25, 1876 at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia.
It’s easy to take the zipper for granted today, but before it was invented, dressing (and staying) involved securing clothing with cords, ties, buttons, or other fasteners. Its first iteration, known as the “continuous automatic garment closure”, was patented in 1851 by Elias Howe: the inventor of the modern lockstitch sewing machine (for which he won a gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867). But Howe never marketed his zipper, and it didn’t take off.
Then, in 1893, inventor Whitcomb L. Judson received a patent for his “clasp-to-clasp” shoe closure and immediately partnered with businessman Colonel Lewis Walker to start the Universal Fastener Company. and manufacture his invention. The “clasp locker” made its debut at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, then was renamed “zipper” in 1923 by BF Goodrich when the company began using zip ties on its wellies.
In addition to the zipper, the Garis-Cochran dishwasher was also first presented to the public at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, in an exhibit drawing curious crowds of the device capable of washing and thoroughly dry 240 dishes in two minutes. The crowd-pleasing exhibit had been in the works for more than a decade. In 1883, Josephine Garis Cochran, an entrepreneur from Ohio, was frustrated with the time it took to clean up after dinners, saying, “If no one else makes a dishwasher, I will do it myself.” . And she did.
By the end of 1886, Cochran had received a patent for his “dishwasher” (which also included a cutlery cleaning system). And while many were impressed with his invention, it was made clear to potential investors that they would only be on board if Cochran stepped down and ceded control of the Garis-Cochran company to the men. Not wanting to do so, it wasn’t until the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 that Cochran had the opportunity she needed to present her dishwasher to the right audience. After that, orders for his product started pouring into restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and colleges, and in 1898 Cochran opened his own factory.
Electrical outlet and socket
One of the biggest challenges in the early days of electricity was getting it from the power source to an individual device. In the 1880s, entire houses were wired for electricity, but electrical devices had to be connected directly to the main power source in the house, posing serious safety risks to household members.
That changed in 1904, when Harvey Hubbell, who had previously invented the electric chain socket, patented the first detachable electric socket in the United States. Comprised of two round pins with annular detents at the ends, Hubbell’s design was aimed at holding a plug securely in its socket, thus avoiding dangerous electrical short circuits and the resulting shock. Hubbell first exhibited his invention at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and within 10 years his plug and socket changed the way Americans used electricity.
The development of television took place during the first decades of the 20th century, but made its official debut on April 20, 1939 at the New York World’s Fair. On that day, the grand opening of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) building at the Queens Fairgrounds was broadcast on television eight miles from the company’s headquarters in Manhattan. Ten days later the fair opened to the public and the next day RCA started selling televisions. May 1, 1939 saw another major television milestone: the launch of a regular television broadcast program on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which was owned by RCA.
Viewers could participate in what was billed as “America’s First Television Tour” (presented by NBC), where they would learn about the media’s history, as well as the science and engineering that made its broadcast possible. But despite the buzz surrounding the new technology, it took a while before televisions were accessible to middle-class American families. Before 1947, only a few thousand households in the country had televisions. But within five years, the presence of television in the United States had grown dramatically, with televisions in 12 million homes by 1952, and gaining its place in half of American homes by 1955.
World’s fairs continued to be held throughout the 20th century, including in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982. The fair counts the Rubik’s cube and Cherry Coke among its best-known inventions, but a technological development took a little longer. time to set up: the touch screen. Although research into touch screens began in the 1940s and gained ground in the 1970s, it was not until the 1982 World’s Fair that the general public discovered this futuristic technology and had the chance to try it out for himself.
In the age of smartphones, it’s easy to identify the touchscreen demo at the World’s Fair as a significant technological turning point, but according to Jack Neely, executive director of the Knoxville History Project and crowd controller at the Expo universal, it was not easy. at the time. “It was … one of those things you had to look at quickly to notice,” Neely told the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon in a 2017 interview.