Also known as:

The Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations or

The New York Crystal Palace Exhibition

The United States held its first World’s Fair in New York City in 1853.

When Sarah was visiting St. Helena, an acquaintance mentioned that he

“was in New York at the opening of the great “Exhibition”; spoke of it as being very fine.

From what the papers say of its continuance we hope to see it.”

What was it like?

Where was it held?



The first “World’s Fair” was held in 1851 in London’s Hyde Park.

It was called “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”

or simply the “Great Exhibition”.

Since it was held in an iron-and-glass structure called the Crystal Palace,

it was also known as the “Crystal Palace Exhibition”.

It was organized by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, to showcase Britain to an international audience.

Although countries from around the world could display their scientific and technological achievements,

as well as works of art and craftsmanship,

it was a platform for Britain to prove its own technological superiority.

Many famous people attended, including

Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Karl Marx and writers like Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens.

Sarah mentions that Dr. Peter Parker was there:

“He also showed us a medal certifying that he was one of the contributors to the great Exhibition of 1851.”

It was sponsored by the first soft drink company, Schweppes.

The London exhibition was a great success.

Six million people attended and it earned a substantial profit.


In 1853 a private company organized a world’s fair in New York City

to showcase the new industrial achievements of the world

and also to demonstrate the nationalistic pride and ideals of a relatively young nation.

It had similar exhibitions as those at the London fair, but also an impressive sculpture garden.


A New York Crystal Palace was constructed, modeled after the one in London.

It was built in today’s Bryant Park.


Latting Observatory was built nearby.

It had an octagonal base with shops,

an iron-braced wooden tower 315-feet high,

winding stairways with several intermediate landings,

three observation levels equipped with telescopes

where visitors could see Queens,  Staten Island and New Jersey.

At the time it was the tallest structure in New York City.

The Latting Observatory was an inspiration for the 1889 Eiffel Tower.

Elisha Otis gave a dramatic presentation of the “safety elevator”,

demonstrating the prevention of a fall of the cab if the cable broke.

The first elevator was installed in New York City three years later.


The Great Exhibition of 1853 opened on July 14, 1853.

The new President Franklin Pierce attended; Walt Whitman wrote a poem for the occasion.

The fair ran from July 15 to November 30, 1853, and some days in December.

A second season ran January 1, 1854 to April 15, 1854, run by P.T. Barnum.

He brought in Jenny Lind the Swedish Nightingale and Tom Thumb, among other attractions.

The final run was from May 4, 1854 to November 1, 1854.

Ticket Cost: 50 cents

Season Ticket: 10 dollars

Hopefully Sarah and her family were able to attend!

Attendance was not as high as the organizers had hoped.

The fair was seen by over 1.1 million visitors; it ended with a substantial monetary loss.

Some reasons cited were:

The fair was scheduled to open May 1st 1853 but was delayed until July, with some items still incomplete.

The roof leaked.

The lack of US government backing caused inter-state jealousy from cities that wanted to host, then refused to attend.

It would be more than 20 years before another exposition was held in the United States.



The Latting Observatory was sold to the Hydeville Marble Works in 1854.

They shortened it by 75 feet to fit their needs.

 It burned down in 1856 in a fire that destroyed more than twelve buildings.

There were no known injuries.

Read More…


The New York Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on October 5, 1858.

The fire began in a lumber room.

Within fifteen minutes its dome fell; Within twenty-five minutes the entire structure had burned to the ground.

No lives were lost.

In addition to the loss of property,

exhibits and valuable statuary remaining from the World’s Fair were also destroyed.

Read More…
Go To Journal
Go To New York