The BIE was created in 1928 and started its activity in 1931. Its mission is to guarantee the quality of Expos and protect the rights of their organisers and participants. Since its creation, the BIE has placed education, innovation and cooperation at the core of Expos, thus changing their reason for being. From showcases of industrial innovation, they have become global discussion platforms aimed at finding solutions to the biggest challenges of humanity. Over 50 Expos have been organised under the auspices of the BIE and their success attracts new Member States each year. Today, 183 countries are members of the BIE.
Even though World Expos were international exhibitions, each organising country set the rules of its event alone, without discussing them with other countries.
This created 3 major problems that threatened the quality and image of World Expos:
The idea to set a common organizational framework for Expos started to emerge as early as 1867 when the Commissioner General of the British pavilion at Expo 1867 Paris issued a memorandum which was signed by his counterparts from Austria, Prussia, Italy, Russia and the USA. The memorandum set 3 main objectives: to control the size and duration of Expos, set a rotation system between States, clarify the different types of Expos and guarantee the quality of the exhibits.
However, it wasn't until 1928 that the project turned to reality. The German Government had taken an important step in 1912 with the organisation of an international conference on the subject but the First World War put a halt to these discussions. The governments took up the matter again in the 1920s, and in Paris, on November 22nd 1928, 31 countries signed the International Convention regulating the organisation of international exhibitions.
The Convention of 1928 applied to all International exhibitions that were of non commercial nature, that were not fine arts exhibitions and that lasted over 3 weeks. This meant that all exhibitions that matched these criteria and that were held by a signing party of the Convention had to respect its rules. The Convention identified different (non-exclusive) types of Expos, established their frequency, set a regulatory procedure for host and participant countries and created a governing body dedicated to guaranteeing the proper application of the Convention: the BIE.
Over the years, the BIE has adapted Expos to the needs of an ever-changing world. With the growing concern of international organizations for social and economic inequality and a new environmental awareness, simply showcasing industrial progress could not be enough, and Expos, by bringing the international community together, became a unique platform for education and development.
After setting Education as the primary goal of Expos in 1972, the BIE issued a resolution in 1994 that stated Expos must address crucial problems of our time and tackle the challenge of environmental protection. Ever since, Expos have made sustainable development their main objective.
Since 1931, the BIE has regulated over 50 Expos, each attracting millions of visitors. In 2010, Shanghai broke the record with 73 million visitors.
The success of these events, the independence of new countries and the era of globalisation have opened the world of Expos to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Today, 183 countries are members of the BIE.
The Convention and the creation of the BIE marked a true change in the organization of Expos. However, 1928 was only the beginning of a long process led by the BIE of redefining, clarifying and specifying the characteristics of Expos and their regulation which the Convention had left open to the interpretation of countries.
After many previous amendments to the Convention, the amendment of 1988 was an important step in the history of the BIE. It clarified the difference between 2 types of Expos, General and Special, whose characteristics had been amended many times since 1928, and created World Expos and International Specialized Expos.
World Expos last up to 6 months, are not limited in size, participants can build their own pavilion, and the theme of the Expo has to be of universal concern.
Specialised Expos are limited to 25 ha, can last up to 3 months, are dedicated to a more specific theme and hosts provide participants with a space inside a pavilion. They were created to limit the organisation costs for hosts and participant countries.
In addition to these two types of Expos, the BIE also regulates the organisation of two other International Exhibitions whose characteristics match those of Expos in terms of international participation and duration: the Triennale Milano International Exhibitions regulated by the BIE since 1933, and Horticultural Expos recognised by the International Association of Horticultural Producers since 1959.
Learn more about the 4 types of Expos.
The first World Expo took place in London in 1851. Many other cities followed and held memorable exhibitions such as Paris, Vienna, Chicago or Brussels.
Intrinsically linked to the Industrial Revolution, these Expos allowed countries to showcase their culture and their power and display their architectural and technological prowess. They unveiled inventions such as the telephone, the typewriter or the elevator, as well as the latest architectural technologies in the form of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty.