Dates20/05/1878 - 10/11/1878
Official DesignationExposition Universelle de 1878, Paris
World Expo 1878 took place in Paris from 1 May to 10 November 1878. It was the first Expo to take place under the French Third Republic and was aimed at showcasing the country’s recovery following the Franco-Prussian War and the upheaval of the Paris Commune.
An Expo on both banks of the Seine
The Expo was opened as scheduled on 1 May by President Patrice de MacMahon. However, not all areas of the Expo site were finished and thus it was not until 20 May that the Expo was fully accessible. More than 52,800 exhibitors took part in the Expo, and while the German Empire was not present, more countries were represented than at the two previous Expos held in Paris in 1855 and 1867.
The Expo site was spread over both banks of the Seine, with pavilions on the Champs de Mars, the Esplanade des Invalides and the Chaillot hill. The Expo’s main venue – the vast Exhibition Palace, made of iron and glass and spanning 350 metres long by 706 metres across – was located on the Champs de Mars. Designed by Léopold Hardy, the imposing structure had a surface of 240,000m2, with fine arts and the City of Paris’ exhibits located at its centre. International pavilions were lined up along the Rue des Nations, featuring lavish façades from different countries around the world which served as entranceways to their respective exhibits.
On the right bank of the Seine, the Trocadero Palace was built atop the Chaillot hill, which was levelled and developed for the occasion. The Palace, designed by Gabriel Davioud and Jules Bourdais, was connected with newly built roads and surrounded by gardens, waterfalls and fountains leading to the Pont d’Iéna and the Champ de Mars beyond it. Built in a Moorish and Byzantine style, the Palace was composed of two large wings connected to a central rotunda flanked by two belvedere-topped towers that, at the time, were the tallest structures in Paris. With a capacity of around 5,000 people, the rotunda served as a concert hall for the Expo’s musical performances, and the wings contained conference rooms as well as the Museum of French Monuments and the Museum of Ethnography.
Innovations and Progress
Following the dominance of steam power at past Expos, World Expo 1878 Paris marked the beginning of the era of electricity, with a series of new inventions on display. Among many novelties, visitors discovered the Yablochkoff candle, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Hughes’ microphone and Edison’s phonograph. New machines catering to growing consumerism were also showcased, including Raoul Pictet’s ice-making machine, J. Hermann-Lachapelle’s soft drink maker, and the Compagnie des Petites Voiture’s horseshoe-making machine. A predecessor of the solar panel – Mouchot and Pifre’s solar generator – was also presented, winning a gold medal.
Decorative arts were also a major focus of the Expo. Visitors were enthralled by Baccarat’s Temple of Mercury, a 4.7-metre-high crystal reproduction of the ancient Roman monument, as well as Barbedienne’s immense neo-Renaissance bronze clock by Louis-Constant Sévin which stood at four metres tall. Both works were distinguished with the Expo’s Grand Prix.
In addition to impressive exhibits, the Expo was also a venue and an opportunity for noteworthy international gatherings. The second Postal Union Congress took place, transforming the General Postal Union into the Universal Postal Union, and two conferences on artistic and literary property rights overseen by Victor Hugo laid the foundations for the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Additionally, an international congress dedicated to those with visual and hearing impairments led to the first agreement on the unification of international standards for the braille alphabet.
Expo 1878 was also the source of new experiences for visitors. The head of the Statue of Liberty by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was open to ‘inside’ visits, and Émile Reynaud’s Praxinoscope offered enthralling optical illusions that served as a precursor to the cinema. Visitors could also take hot air balloon tours over Paris, or take a more controlled trip on Henri Giffard’s tethered balloon, which could welcome 40-50 people at a time.
Extended opening and legacy
Due to its lagged opening, there was considerable pressure to keep the Expo open for longer than initially planned. With the international jury awards ceremony moved from 18 September to 21 October, the Expo’s closing date was pushed back from 31 October to 10 November, allowing prizewinners to showcase their award-winning exhibits to visitors.
By the time of its closing, the Expo had recorded 16 million paid visits. The event left a considerable mark on the western districts of Paris and several international pavilions are still standing in different locations around the Paris region. While the Trocadero Palace was demolished in 1935 to make way for World Expo 1937, many of its iconic statues remain on display outside the Musée d’Orsay.