The first world’s fair recognized by the Bureau of International Expositions was the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in and around a glass structure called the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. Thirty-two countries participated in the almost six-month-long event, which attracted more than six million visitors. Few souvenirs of the event remain, and even the Crystal Palace is gone (in 1854 it was moved to Sydenham in South London, where it burned to the ground in 1936).

Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle in 1855 at the Palais de l’Industrie. Organized by Prince Napoleon Jerome, the agriculturally focused expo is best perhaps remembered for its official classification of Bordeaux wines, a five-tiered system that persists to this day, despite the complaints of oenophiles. The United States hosted its first official exposition in 1876 to mark the country’s centennial. Held in Philadelphia, the Centennial Exposition offered visitors all sorts of keepsakes, from inkwells and sewing boxes to metal Liberty Bell paperweights and stereoviews of everything from Tiffany vases to the steel turret salvaged from the famous Civil War vessel "The Monitor." It was also the place where Alexander Graham Bell's invention, the telephone, was introduced.

Toward the end of the century, in 1893, a second U.S. exposition was presented in Chicago. Called the Columbian World’s Fair, the spectacle was timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the new world. In addition to the china, glassware, prints, postcards, badges, medals, and charms that were produced for the fair, collectors of world’s fair material seek out the official U.S. coins that were minted prior to the event to help raise money for it.

Paris held its second world’s fair in 1900; like the first, it was located around the Eiffel Tower. Souvenir plates depicted guests from all over the world attending the fair and the structures built for it, as well as lists of scheduled events, such as a performance by Sarah Bernhardt. Visitors could also take home souvenir photo portfolios, postcards, and stereoviews of the fairgrounds. The Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, followed in 1901; coins, pinbacks, and shot glasses were offered at that fair. A new-fangled contraption called an x-ray machine was exhibited, but the event is infamous as the assassination site of President William McKinley, who was shot by an anarchist inside the Temple of Music.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, held in St. Louis in 1904, offered the usual array of ceramic plates and glass and metal cups to visitors, and it gained greater notoriety in 1944 when “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland, hit movie theaters. In 1909, Seattle hosted its first world’s fair when the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was held on what is now the campus of the University of Washington. Tourists took home Staffordshire plates, aluminum cigar holders, and beribboned pinbacks.

In 1915, San Francisco and San Diego each held expos to mark the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The San Francisco event popularized the ukulele, while the San Diego expo left a lasting legacy on the city’s Balboa Park. A couple of decades later, in 1933, the city of Chicago presented A Century of Progress, an Art Deco feast of posters, beaded purses, salt-and-pepper shakers, radios, Brownie cameras, pocket watches, clocks, and model cars and trains. Jigsaw puzzles of the fairgrounds were produced, and at the Hall of Religion, you could pick up a copy of “The World’s Smallest Bible,” which fit in a teaspoon. Burlesque queen Sally Rand performed at the fair, and photos of her famously revealing fan dance are prized by collectors.

The end of the decade, 1939, saw two fairs in the United States, held simultaneously in San Francisco and New York. While the fair in San Francisco is recalled by some for its ar...

Four fairs were held in North America in the 1960s: The Century 21 Exposition in Seattle, 1962; yet another World’s Fair in New York, 1964; Expo 67 in Montreal; and HemisFair ’68 in San Antonio. Of these, the expos in Seattle and Montreal left the biggest marks. Seattle is still identified with the Space Needle that was built for the event and immediately replicated on stamps, medals, plates, glasses (the ones given away at Mobil gas stations are probably the best known), spoons, lamps, and pens. The legacy of Expo 67 can be seen in the architecture of Moshe Safdie, whose modular Habitat ’67 housing units are either an eyesore or a work of a visionary genius.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Ad Access

Ad Access

Duke University's library has pulled together an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canadi… [read review or visit site]

Plan 59

Plan 59

From the Nostlagia Factory in Virginia comes this celebration of 'mid-century automotive advertising illustrations'… [read review or visit site]

American Package Museum

American Package Museum

Ian House's gallery of early 20th Century American package designs. Browse the exhibits in slide show mode or view … [read review or visit site]

Found in Moms Basement

Found in Moms Basement

Paula Zargaj-Reynolds’ blog, an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising, is a visual feast. Scro… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Expo Spy Camera,pocket Watch Worlds Fair Antique VintageCentury Of Progress Chicago World's Fair 1933 Employee Badge$1g 1915-s Panama Pacific Gold Dollar, Pcgs Ms65, Rare Condition! * Avenuecoin1904 United States Louisiana Bronze Purchase International Exposition Medal1891 Russia Moscow Franco Russian Exposition Medal Medallion1915-s $2.50 Gold Commemorative Panama-pacific Coin Pcgs Graded Au58Vintage Official Souvenir The Tower Of Jewels 1915 P.p.i.e. San Francisco Glass Chicago Worlds Fair 1933. Royal Scout, #7 Elongated Cent12 Ounce Silver Panda Coin 5th Internation Coin Exposition Hong Kong W/box 1986 1915-s Panama Pacific Commemorative Half DollarItalian Italy Silvered Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Milan 1906 (m282)Italy Italian Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Milan 1906 (m289)Rare 1904 St. Louis World's Fair Donkey Epergne With Opalescent Glass LilyVintage Lux Or Gilbert Ball Clock From Chicago World's Fair-for RepairA 1939 Ny World's Fair Camera Kodak Baby Brownie1909 A.y.p.e. Gold Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition Coin 1/4 Dwt Stick Pin 2-1/4"World's Columbian Exposition TicketsAmerican Cased Bronze Medal Medallion World Columbian Exposition Usa 1893 (m267)Italian Solid Silver Presentation Medal Medallion Exposition Turin 1911 (m291)Cased French Silvered Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Napoleon 1855 (m280)1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, Us Army "ppie" Hat Badge. Extremely Rare1904 St. Louis World's Fair Louisiana Purchase Souvenir CoinRare French Solid Silver Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Paris 1889 (m253)1915 Pan Pac International Exposition Harder To Find "so Called Dollar"1904 St. Louis Olympic Juror Pinback Cased French Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Cannes (m266)1904 St. Louis World's Fair Philippine Medal Of Honor1867 Napoleon Iii France Silver Paris International Exposition Awards MedalCased French Gilt Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Paris 1900 (m263)Original 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition Coin In Wood Case Administration Bldg1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition H Muir & Sons Pocketwatch Case Opener Fob NrSuperb Chilian Chile Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition 1875 (m279)1931 France Paris Bronze Exposition Coloniale Internationale Medal MedallionLouisiana Purchase Exposition Cancel Guild Hall Ticket Ad Phonograph 19041939 New York Worlds Fair Chrome Table Fan Rare Knapp Monarch Works Deco VintageStunning Columbian Exposition Christopher Columbus 4" Medallion - Made In Milano1915-s 50c Panama-pacific Silver Commemorative Ultra Low 27,134 Mintage ChoicebuLarge American Base Metal Medallion Exposition Chicago 1898 Ferris Wheel (m306)Old 1893 Columbian Expo World's Fair Adv.keystone Watch Cases Pocketwatch Opener1964-1965 New York World's Fair Silver MedalBelgium 1930 Philatelic Exposition Antwerp Mnh (!) Top Sheet Mi Block 1 Very Hi 1939 New York World's Fair Gwenda England Metal Compact Trylon And Perisphere Cased Belgian Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Liege 1905 (m262)1901 Buffalo, Ny World's Fair Pan-american Expo Sterling Silver Souvenir SpoonWonder Bread Day New York World's Fair 1940 Pin / Badge Estate Find Free ShipFrench Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Paris 1900 (m255)1915 Panama Pacific Exposition Closing Day Badge & Pinback Nice!Antique 1907 Jamestown Exposition Old Church Sterling Silver Souvenir Spoon 20gmHistorical Eapg Gillander & Sons 1876 Philadelphia Expo Shakespeare Statuette 1893 World's Fair Columbus Cast Metal Clock - Regent Mfg Co. Chicago - Works!Chicago World's Fair 1933-1934 Woman's Compact Rare French Gold Faced Lapel Badge Exhibition Exposition Electricity 1881 (m258)Antique 1907 Jamestown Exposition Landing Sterling Silver Souvenir Spoon 20gm1893 Chicago Worlds Fair Columbian Exposition L. Legrand Oriza Perfume RareBelgian Bronze Medal Medallion Exhibition Exposition Gand 1913 (m251)Antique 1930s-1940s 50s Accessory 1934 Worlds Fair Dash Thermometer Chevy Hotrod1892 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition Half Dollar Commemorative Coin Chicago 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition Portland Oregon Bronze Table MedalWorld's Columbian Exposition TicketsTomorrow Land!1939 New York World's Fair Builders Of The World Of Tomorrow Patch