The Expo Blog is a space for posts on the history, themes, legacies and experience of Expos. It includes articles from the BIE and external contributors.
Organised under the theme “World of Tomorrow”, Expo 1939 in New York celebrated the “Dawn of a New Day”, which was partly made possible by the electrification of the country. Increased access to safe and reliable energy in the first part of the 20th century lead to a wave of optimism and hope for a future shaped by technological prowess and societal changes.
In 1900, only around 2% of homes in the United States were electrified, but by 1939, this proportion had increased dramatically to approximately 70%.
Sustainable architecture and the passive house concept are undoubtedly subjects of priority among urban planners and architects in the 21st century. But long before concerns about reducing emissions and minimising energy use, one of the first concept homes integrating sustainable design was showcased at Expo 1933 in Chicago.
Built in the backdrop of the Great Depression, the House of Tomorrow, designed by American modernist architect, George Fred Keck, was presented at the “Century of Progress Exhibition”. It was a vision of what the future could offer and is considered as a pioneer in modern housing solar design.
The development of renewable energy alongside urbanisation and population growth has made the transmission of electricity a pressing issue for policymakers. Urban centres are often located hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the source of energy, and unlike fossil fuels, renewables cannot be transported. In response to this challenge, “supergrids” are being developed using specially built cables using direct current as very high voltages (HVDC), allowing large volumes of electricity to be efficiently transported over long distances.
The development of supergrids in the 21st century is the continuation of efforts since the dawn of the electric age to increase capacity and scale up access to electricity. As early as Expo 1904 in St. Louis, Chester H. Thordarson showcased a half-million volt transformer, winning a gold medal for the invention which he built in only 28 days. But it was not until Expo 1915 in San Francisco that Thordarson set the bar for electrical transmission when the public were introduced to the million-volt transformer, part of the High Tension Research Pavilion within the Machinery Palace.
The transfer of electricity has long been a conundrum for inventors and electrical engineers, and the question of power supply to different devices continues to be a focal point of research and development. Wireless systems and radio frequency signals increasingly look to be the future of powering devices, with many of the latest innovations to be showcased at Expo 2017 Astana.
Before the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, there was no standard method of the various electrical appliances and devices that had been invented. Thomas Edison had already wired a number of homes in New York City, but one vital element was missing that changed the way we consume power forever: the plug and socket.
Expo 1900 Paris featured awe-inspiring pavilions that showcased the ingenuity of participating countries, but one exhibit that stood out was the stunning Palais de l’Electricité (the Palace of Electricity), which was as remarkable for its beauty as its essential function on the Expo site.
Designed by Eugène Hénard, this architectural marvel was a 130-metre-long and 70-metre-high façade, covered with thin stained glass and an intricately designed ceramic decoration; crowned at the top by a chariot drawn by hippogriffs spewing showers of multi-coloured flames.