World Expo 2005 Aichi, which opened its gates 15 years ago today, was the venue for numerous technological innovations, including the Super Hi-Vision Theater - where the public was introduced to what is commonly known as Ultra HDTV for the first time.
The chances are that most people reading this blog post are doing so via a touchscreen, a ubiquitous part of modern life whether it be on phones, tablets, or supermarket checkouts. Though it is very much a 21st century phenomenon, the history of the touchscreen goes back decades, with Expo 1982 Knoxville being the venue for the first public showcase of this technology.
Inventors and entrepreneurs have long been hoping to harness the power of the sun as a long-term source of sustainable energy. French mathematics professor Augustin Mouchot was a precursor, when he first demonstrated the potential of this form of energy, showcasing the parabolic solar collector, at World Expo 1878 in Paris.
Present in thousands of everyday products, rubber is ubiquitous in the modern world. While it has been used in its natural form for thousands of years, it was only after the development of vulcanisation by American inventor Charles Goodyear – showcased with grandeur at World Expo 1851 London – that rubber became the widespread material it is today.
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of American Independence, World Expo 1876 Philadelphia introduced the public to a multitude of innovations, including the Sholes & Glidden typewriter, sold under the brand name Remington No. 1. While other typewriters had already been produced, the Remington No. 1 was the first to be a commercial success and the first ever to feature the Qwerty format keyboard.
In an era of rapid technological change and regularly updated devices, it is easy to underestimate the revolutionary impact of new inventions in the late 19th century. At World Expo 1878 Paris, one such invention - Thomas Edison’s phonograph, capable of recording and playing back sound – seemed so amazing to visitors that many were convinced it was a fake.
With Expos serving as a showcase for the creativity and technological innovation of their participating countries, pavilions provides an ideal element to combine both unique design and technical prowess. Such was the case with Germany’s pavilion at World Expo 2015 Milan, which boldly incorporated organic photovoltaics (OPV) – an exciting and rapidly developing form of solar power – into the structure of its “Field of Dreams” themed pavilion.
Heralding the “World of Tomorrow”, World Expo 1939 New York introduced the public to a wide range of consumer goods, offering a modern new era of accessible comfort. Among these new products were nylon stockings, an innovative item of clothing that went on to revolutionise wardrobes and fashion.
Without mobile phones, modern society would not be the same. Fifty years ago, visitors to World Expo 1970 Osaka had the first opportunity to discover what this technology offered, giving them a glimpse into a much more connected – and mobile – future.
In a world in which images and videos can be shared instantaneously to an unlimited audience, it is difficult to imagine how events were communicated and consumed by the public without modern technology. In the case of live television broadcasting, a major milestone was made with the first live address on the occasion of the opening ceremony of World Expo 1939 New York.
Expos create opportunities for businesses to stand out. They provide a unique platform to showcase new products, to measure up the competition, to be in direct contact with consumers and to test new tactics. For one particularly well-known company – Heinz – three Expos in the late 19th century marked the expansion of the small-scale family firm to a global player.
After IMAX at Expo 1970 Osaka, the A to Z of Innovations at Expos moves to another technology for public entertainment that was also launched at an Expo in Japan. This time, it was at Expo 1985 Tsukuba, and the innovation was the Jumbotron, the name for the giant screens that can be found in stadiums and major events venues around the world.
Among the many ways in which Expos have been at the forefront of innovations in public entertainment, the worldwide début of IMAX cinema at Expo 1970 Osaka is one of the most significant.
Marking the centenary of the French Revolution and centred around the monumental Eiffel Tower, World Expo 1889 in Paris was a hotbed of ambitious ideas. One of these, though it received little attention at the time, was the concept of hydroelectricity, presented by French engineer Aristide Bergès.
From the mid 19th century, industrial advancements led to a race to develop higher performance engines in order to move beyond the practical constraints of coal-powered steam engines. At Expo 1867 Paris, much of the focus was on the gas engine, where a newcomer – the Otto-Langen atmospheric engine – drew praise for its innovative efficiency.
Improvements in communications are often some of the most fascinating innovations showcased at World Expos, offering visitors a vision of a future where interactions across the world will be quicker and easier. This was the case as early as the first Expo – the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London – where an early version of the fax machine was on display.
When thinking about an electric car, most people would cast their minds to a recent invention, with new electric-powered vehicles growing in popularity as fossil fuels are replaced with greener alternatives. Few would think that electric cars go back more than a century, with one model in particular by Lohner-Porsche being the centre of the show at World Expo 1900 in Paris.
One of the three subthemes of Expo 2020 Dubai is Mobility – looking at the different ways humankind has moved around and explored. At Expo 1867 Paris, one form of mobility was advanced by the inspired creation of Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze: the diving suit.
Expo 1970 Osaka – the first World Expo held in Asia – was a showcase of Japan’s rapid growth and its status as a country of technological innovation. Among the many cutting-edge creations on display, the Expo’s official clock system was one of the most impressive.
As well as the many cutting-edge technologies introduced at Expos over the years, some more ordinary – but not less important – items of daily wear have also made their début, including the bra.
With one year to go until Expo 2020 Dubai, excitement is rising about the innovations and solutions that will be showcased at the next World Expo. From cordless elevators to machines that make water from thin air, visitors to Expo 2020 can expect to discover a myriad of cutting-edge technologies that will shape the future, just as visitors to past Expos were offered a glimpse of what was to come.