The Story of the First World's Fair: The Great Exhibition

Last week, we had an article on the Quick and Dirty Tips website from Vocabulary.com titled 15 Words You Didn’t Realize Were Named After People. The first word on the list was saxophone, and reading more about the inventor led me to a marvelous Victorian event called the Great Exhibition.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

Who invented the saxophone?

Adolphe Sax was a Belgian instrument maker who invented the saxophone while living in Paris making flutes and clarinets in 1840. Sax patented his invention six years later, and the first mention of it in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the catalog of the Great Exhibition, which was held in 1851 at Hyde Park in London. The derivative noun saxophonist emerged soon thereafter, but it took quite a while for saxophone to spawn an adjective. We didn’t get saxophonic until 1926.

Many people refer to the Great Exhibition as the first World’s Fair. According to the British Library website, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, wanted to showcase “the wonders of industry and manufacturing from around the world” and created the Great Exhibition with the help of Henry Cole, a British inventor and (here’s a great piece of trivia) the creator of the first commercial Christmas card.

The Great Exhibition was meant to promote peace, and according to the Victoria and Albert Museum website, the Exhibition “was the first time that the nations of the world had ever come together in one place, other than on a battlefield.“

The Great Exhibition was housed in an enormous glass building that came to be known as the Crystal Palace. The event covered more than 10 miles, and more than 100,000 objects were displayed by more than 15,000 contributors. Sax would have displayed his new instrument alongside marvels such as tapestries, urns, daguerreotypes, steam engines, state of the art printing presses, weaponry, and armor; and likely would have been viewed by Queen Victoria, who opened the exhibition and visited often. More than six million people came through the Exhibition and the profit and many of the exhibition items were used to create what is now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum.

As I read more and more about the Great Exhibition, I started thinking it would be the ideal setting for a book or movie. If you know of any, please let them in the comments.

Other Sources

A Day at the Great Exhibition (video)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.