170 years of World Expo history

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is marking 170 years since the first World Expo on 1 May 2021, just as Expo 2020 Dubai puts the finishing touches to preparations for its opening in October.

On 1 May 1851, the Great Exhibition opened in London, housed in the glittering Crystal Palace, becoming the first World Expo ever held. Now, 170 years later, the UAE will play host to global nations and their people at the next World Expo, the first in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region.

Expo 2020 Dubai aims to drive inspiration, innovation and collaboration at the first mega-event since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic - a global gathering that will bring together more than 200 organisations and nations to inspire action and deliver actionable solutions to real-life challenges.

World Expos have introduced to the world some of the items used and enjoyed around the world as part of daily life, including colour television, mobile phones, the zipper and even tomato ketchup. The longevity and history of these events underscore their importance to their participants, and the generations that follow them. Since 1851 in London, destinations as diverse as St Louis, Paris, New York, Osaka and Shanghai have played host to visitors from across the world, with Dubai and the UAE now adding its name to that storeyed roll call with its own unique, historic contribution.

The Crystal Palace, venue for Expo 1851 London

Dimitri S Kerkentzes, Secretary General of the BIE, said: “In 1851, the Great Exhibition celebrated the industrial wonders of a rapidly changing world, creating a new paradigm for global cooperation and progress. In the ensuing 170 years, World Expos have marked eras and shaped cities, and have been at the forefront of anticipating global change.”

“As the planet faces unprecedented challenges, it has never been more important for the world to come together to share the brightest and best ideas and innovations. As visitors join countries and organisations later this year to exchange under the theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, Expo 2020 Dubai will demonstrate the best that humanity can offer when we work together for a better future.”

The site of Expo 2020 Dubai

Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “As we mark a truly historic milestone, everyone at Expo 2020 Dubai is extremely proud to be part of the illustrious lineage of World Expos. As the first nation in the region to host a World Expo, we cannot wait to add the next chapter to this wonderful history, collaborating on issues of global importance as we invite hundreds of participants and millions of visitors to join the making of a new world.”

After the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, the momentum continued when the Commissioner General of the British Pavilion at Expo 1867 in Paris issued a memorandum to set a common organisational framework, which was then signed by counterparts from Austria, Prussia, Italy, Russia and the United States. The memorandum set three main objectives: to control the size and duration of Expos, set a rotation system between Member States, clarify the different types of Expos and guarantee the quality of the exhibits.

However, it was not until 1928 that the BIE was created, with the Convention of Paris applied to all international exhibitions that were of non-commercial nature, not fine-arts exhibitions and that lasted more than three weeks.