In 1849 Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria I and president of the Royal Society of Arts, came up the idea of inviting international exhibitors to participate in an exposition. Plans were developed and the necessary funds were immediately raised, with Victoria herself heading the list of subscribers; the exhibition opened in the Crystal Palace on May 1, 1851.
Some 14,000 exhibitors participated, nearly half of who were non-British. France sent 1,760 exhibits and the United States 560. Among the American exhibits were false teeth, artificial legs, Colt’s repeating pistol, Goodyear India rubber goods, chewing tobacco, and McCormick’s reaper. Popular British exhibits included hydraulic presses, powerful steam engines, pumps, and automated cotton mules (spinning machines). More than six million visitors attended the exhibition, which was open to the public until October 11 of the same year. The event showed a significant amount of profit, and a closing ceremony was held on October 15. From there, the building was taken down, and it was rebuilt at Sydenham Hill in Upper Norwood, overlooking London from the south.
The Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, was a remarkable construction of prefabricated parts. It consisted of a complicated network of slender iron rods sustaining walls of clear glass. It established an architectural standard for later international fairs and exhibitions that likewise were housed in glass conservatories, the immediate successors being the Cork Exhibition of 1852, the Dublin and New York City expositions of 1853, the Munich Exhibition of 1854, and the Paris Exposition of 1855.
Supported and sponsored by the British Empire, most importantly by Prince Albert, the International Exhibition and the Palace itself set the tone for modern thinking and opened the door for a worldwide Industrial Revolution. Both, the exhibition and the Palace marked a turning point in the history of mankind.