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Paris universal exhibition of 1855

The first universal exhibition “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations” took place in London in 1851. Convinced by his visit of the Londoner universal exhibition, emperor Napoléon III ordered the organization of a same event in Paris in 1855.

Exposition universelle 1855 1 Expo universelle 1855 2 Expo universelle 1855 3
Symbolic: Promote the Empire
Theme: “Products, from agriculture, industry and fine arts”
Exhibition’s figures
  • 15 hectares
  • 25 countries represented
  • 24 000 exhibitors
  • 5 million visitors
Personalities of the exhibition

Obviously Napoléon III came to the exhibition, but also Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and all the crowned heads of Europe. Some painters like Ingres, Delacroix, Descamps exhibited their work. Foucault showed rotation of the earth thanks to his famous pendulum. Gustave Courbet, considered too progressive to join other artists, organised his own official exhibition.

Architecture that still exists

The Hôtel du Louvre hosted the most sumptuous receptions of universal exhibition. It is now the Louvre des antiquaires.

  •  The Grand Hôtel de Paris (10th arrondissement)
  • “France putting a golden crown on Arts and Industry” neo antique sculpture in the Parc de Saint Cloud 
Inventions and innovations
  • Loysel percolator (2000 cups of coffee per hour)
  • The lawnmower
  • The washing machine
  • The six-shooter
  • The Traction engine
  • The Singer sewing machine
  • The talking doll
  • Foucault’s Pendulum
  • The first saxophone
  • Setting up of the classification of Bordeaux wines, still in use today


1855, from May 15th to November 15th

Four years after the first universal exhibition in London (1851), by the will of Napoleon III, Paris enters the competition. The emperor wanted to turn exhibition into celebration of peace and showed to foreign countries the greatness of France. This prestigious exhibition will allow imperial family to enforce its position. Number of visitors and accommodation capacity are higher than London exhibition. Thirty states are represented: European neighbours, Egypt, Tunisia, British, Portuguese and Spanish colonies and numerous Latin American countries.

The huge Industry Palace appears too narrow. Extra galleries were added. France dedicated a special building for fine arts on the "avenue Montaigne". Since then, they will always be present for each universal exhibition. Concerned about working classes welfare, French government also highlights home economics. Daily products at low prices were staged in a long gallery. They try to democratize the awards, sometimes attributes to labourers. A law is enacted to protect industrial inventions. This principle will be used for each Parisian exhibition.

At the end of the exhibition, Prince Napoléon, president of Imperial commission, encourages construction of temporary buildings for the future exhibitions.



Crédit photos : BIE/Bureau International des Expositions
Sources : Que sais-je ? Les expositions universelles, par Florence Pinot de Villechenon ; Fêtes géantes - Les expositions universelles pour quoi faire ?, par Florence Pinot de Villechenon ; Sur les traces des expositions universelles, 1855-1937, par Sylvain Ageorges.


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