A history of innovation

Celebrating over 170 years of World Expos, from London’s original extravaganza to Dubai’s attempt to connect minds and create a new future

Ever since Britain’s Great Exhibition was held in 1851, Expos have been showcases of innovation, displaying advances in technology, architecture, and global cooperation. The Eiffel Tower (1889), the dishwasher (1893) and the ice cream cone (1904) are just some of the things to have debuted at Expos in the past and there are plenty more world-changing steps to be taken in the future. Here we dive into this proud history, illustrating the attendance and theme of every Expo to date, and highlighting the first one to take place on each continent.

1. The first Expo

London 1851
6,039,195 visitors | 25 participants
Theme: Industry of all nations

The first World Expo, known as the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations,” was held in Hyde Park at the height of Britain’s industrial revolution. Over six million people visited the exhibits, which included gold watches from Switzerland, vulcanized rubber from the USA and pearl-embroidered coats from India. Everything was housed in a custom-built exhibition hall which incorporated 10 million feet of glass and was dubbed the ‘Crystal Palace’. The spark of global innovation witnessed in 1851 would start an endless stream of fresh ideas at the Expos that were to follow.

2. The first Expo in the Americas

Philadelphia 1876
10,000,000 visitors | 35 participants
Theme: Arts, Manufactures & Products of the Soil & Mine

The first Expo in the Americas was a chance for the USA to show off its emerging might. Known as the World’s Fair, its exhibitions were held across five halls, each with their own theme—the Main Hall, the Fine Arts Pavilion, the Machinery Hall, the Horticultural Palace, and the Agricultural Hall. The 1876 Expo introduced innovations that would go on to change the world, with the first public outings of the telegraph, the typewriter, and the telephone.

3. The first Expo in Oceania

Melbourne 1880
1,330,000 visitors | 33 participants
Theme: Arts, Manufactures and Agricultural and Industrial Products of all Nations

The first international exhibition in the southern hemisphere looked to broaden the horizons of its million-plus attendees. Together with the now-customary display of incredible industrial advancements, visitors were also able to experience cultures and flavors from countries around the world with performances and cooking stations across the 25-hectare site.

4. The first Expo in Asia

Osaka 1970
64,218,770 visitors | 77 participants
Theme: Progress and Harmony for Mankind

Asia’s first Expo set a record for the number of visitors that would stand for 40 years. Expo ’70 was another milestone on Japan’s path from war-ravaged wreck to the world’s number two economy, and is remembered as much for its all-star cast of postwar artists as it is for its now-retro futurism. From video displays to Metabolist architecture, the fair transformed the Senri Hills in Osaka into a playground for luminaries like Taro Okamoto, Kenzo Tange, Tadanori Yokoo and Junko Koshino. The event also introduced the world to mobile phone technology and the “Washlet” toilet with bidet and heating functions.

5. The first Expo in MEASA

Dubai 2020
25,000,000 visitors (predicted) | 200+ participants
Theme: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future

Delayed by the pandemic, Dubai 2020 became the first Expo in the MEASA (Middle East, Africa and South Asia) region when it opened last October. Themed weeks held throughout the Expo aim to work toward collaborative solutions to global issues including climate change, health, and inequality.