Why was the Great Exhibition of 1851 held and what did it achieve?
The doors to the Crystal Palace were opened to the greatest exhibition of the nineteenth century in 1851. When they closed five months later six million visits had been made to see the displays of the fourteen thousand exhibitors. The exhibition which was spearheaded by Prince Albert mainly aimed to increase exportation of British goods and to encourage free trade. The exhibtion itself captured the public's imagination as was seen by the number of designs entered for the building to contain the exhibits. The design eventually chosen was that of Joseph Paxton, a gardener for the duke of Devonshire. It was what could only be described as a huge, majestic, and flamboyant greenhouse, which immediately earned the title of the Crystal Palace.
The exhibition was held during a period of economic boom and social change. Britain was expanding, the population had grown from twenty seven million in 1851 to thirty two million in 1871. Britain supplied the railways to the world. In 1869 three hundred thousand tonnes of iron went to the USA alone. The Great Exhibition was partly held to show this prosperity. It was an extension of the trade show idea manufactures in France had used to gain custom. The Great Exhibition also held exhibits from other countries with the intention of showing a dominance, it stated in no uncertain terms that Great Britain was the centre of the world in terms of industry. The Queen, Victoria, recognised how well the Great Exhibition did this "God bless my dear country which has shown itself so great today." The exhibtion showed the exact state of British industry and was the meant to display the influence the British industries had on the world. How Britain was described was as the "Workshop of the World."
As well as the idea of promoting Britain as the "Workshop of the world" the Great Exhibition displayed the sense of pride the British held in their country. This is shown by the fact that the working class were prepared to travel from the north and the middlelands to see it. So many people wanted to see the Great Exhibition that the company Thomas Cook was founded and went into buisness to transport people around the country, an activity which was becoming cheaper and cheaper which highlights again the comparative wealth of the nation.
Most of all the Great Exhibition was designed to increase the exports of Britain to other countries, it was the major aim and by showing its dominance and industrial advancement to the world it was reasonable to believe that the desired effect would be gained. The Great exhibition was also held due to more mundane reasons such as, to make money and because Prince Albert, a man who the public did not immediatly like, spearheaded the project. Prince Albert backed the idea fully because, amongst other things, of what it would achieve, or at least what it was hoped to achieve.
The higher exports that the Great Exhibition was designed to achieve was only had a short term effect, although exports continually increased the boom that the Great Exibition was responsible for was soon inaparent. The exhibition did show just how strong the British were in foreign affairs, especially industry. It had been able to do what it had wanted in so far as it showed the world that London was the centre of the world where money and industry was concerned.
Also, as far as Industry was concerned, the event educated the countries which were not as advanced as Britain, in other words it set up a vision of the future for those countries which had not undergone an Industrial Revolution and it showed them how to bring one about. The Great Exhibition was a chance for fairly wealthy countries to learn and become competition for Britain. This they did and the fact that Britain had advanced first acted against it as better machines were made and used in countries which developed later. The new machines offered better production techniques and a better efficiency which meant that Britain which was using older machines was behind because to buy the more advanced machines would have been an economic mistake. To buy more machinery would mean an increase in prices which would have meant far less of the product would have been sold. So the Great Exhibition educated of the other nations of the world on how to compete with Britain which at the time was a head in the field of most industries. America at this time was a country which wanted to embrace Industrial Revolution and they certainly had the right sought of people. At the Great Exhibition there was an American gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson which was unrivalled in the field of Gun making.
The Great Exhibition through encouraging the masses to come and see, educated the masses and also educated the aristocracy as to how exactly the working classes do behave. That the working classes were not all the louts and ignorant people they had by many people assumed to be. The working class did themselves a great service by visiting the great Exhibition as this showed a willingness to learn and their behaviour once the were there was such that it was seen that maybe the working classes could be trusted with things like he vote. It is important to clarify that peoples prejudice towards the working classes didn't change overnight. After the five months the Great Exhibition had been open £186,000 had been raised and the money went into developing the museums and Royal colleges which can be found in South Kensington.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was of immense importance to the historian as such a lot can be learned from its study. The Exhibition was a display of the worlds industry it was the work of a royal person and its effects were important and far reaching. The exhibition itself was a succesful money making venture and on the outside with the increased exports and the force with which Britain had prooved beyond any shadow of a doubt that it ruled the Industrial world seem to be exactly what it was aimed to be. In reality though the Great Exhibition gave the world a chance to catch up and exceed the abilities of Britain.