Dates15/04/1900 - 12/11/1900
Theme19th century: an overview
Official DesignationL’Exposition de Paris 1900
Inaugurated by French President Émile Loubet on 14 April 1900, World Expo 1900 Paris celebrated the genius and diversity of modern civilisation. Organised under the theme “19th century: an overview”, the fifth Exposition Universelle to be held in Paris gathered 51 million visitors between 14 April and 12 November 1900, and registered more than 80,000 participants.
The Expo took place across five main zones spanning 120 hectares, including the banks of the Seine, the Champs de Mars as well as the Place de la Concorde. An additional 102 ha area in the Bois de Vincennes welcomed the agricultural exhibition, a village of typical workers’ homes, railway exhibits, and sporting competitions. The latter were organised in the framework of the Paris Olympic Games; the first modern Olympics to take place outside of Greece.
Expo 1900 was the largest and most celebrated Expo to ever take place in Paris. The event transformed France’s capital city and reinforced its status as the City of Lights.
Transforming the city
Expo 1900 Paris brought with it new railway stations, emblematic new bridges and buildings, as well as its first ever metro line.
To replace the Palais de l’Industrie, built for the first World Expo in Paris in 1855, two remarkable structures rose up: the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais. Designed by architect Henri Deglane, the Grand Palais - which hosted the Expo’s fine arts, painting and modern sculpture exhibits – is recognisable for its immense glass and steel nave atop a classic stone façade. Resting on 40,000 solid oak piles to protect it from the nearby Seine, the immense structure was created using the latest industrial techniques. Its smaller neighbour, the Petit Palais, was designed by Charles Girault, and featured a retrospective of French art, gathering some of the most iconic works from provincial museums and churches.
Nearby, the Pont Alexandre III was built, connecting the right bank of the Seine with the Esplanade des Invalides. Inaugurated on the opening day of the Expo, the bridge spans the Seine with a single metal arch, creating an impressive perspective between the Champs-Élysées and Invalides. It is named after Tsar Alexander III as a tribute to the 1891 alliance between France and Russia.
The Palais du Trocadéro, built for World Expo 1878, was remodelled for the occasion, with the addition of a 4,000-person concert hall to host the Expo’s cultural performances.
In order to welcome the Expo’s tens of millions of visitors, three new railway stations were built in Paris – Gare de Lyon, Gare des Invalides and Gare d’Orsay. Furthermore, the city’s first metro line, connecting Porte Maillot with Porte de Vincennes, was opened on 19 July 1900, a few months after the Expo’s opening. Organisers also installed a large bicycle parking station on the Champs-Élysées as well as a moving walkway dubbed ‘Rue de l’Avenir’, situated on the site itself. The walkway, designed by the same American engineers - Joseph Lyman Schmidt and Max E. Silsbee – who created the first ever moving walkway for Expo 1893 Chicago - spanned 3.5km and could transport up to 14,000 people at any given moment. An electric railway line was also built on the Expo site to further ease visitor mobility.
Magnifying the city
Of the many impressive sights dotted around the Expo site, some were only temporary constructions. These included the 45-metre-high Monumental Gate, which served as the Expo’s main ticket office. Designed by René Binet, the monumental structure featured three 20-metre arches as well as a dome bearing Paul Moreau-Vauthier’s 'La Parisienne' statue, which depicted a woman with a modernised figure and flowing robe. Built using an iron structure covered in plaster, the Monumental Gate was decorated with bright blue, green and yellow stones as well as several flying banners.
The Palace of Electricity, created by Eugène Hénard, was a magnificent symbol of progress and modernity that was as remarkable for its beauty as for its essential function on the Expo site. Behind its intricately designed façade featuring multi-coloured lights, the Palace of Electricity provided all the electrical power for the Expo site, which was entirely lit up and featured numerous fountains and water features.
Visitors seeking an overall view of the Expo had the opportunity to take a ride on the Chicago Ferris Wheel, rising 70 metres above the ground. The Wheel stayed in Paris until 1937 and served as a model for later attractions.
Along the banks of the Seine, Le Vieux Paris by Albert Robida recreated the city’s former architectural styles, offering a journey into the past. The Village Suisse also offered visitors an escape, with a reconstruction of a typical Swiss Alpine village created by Charles Henneberg and Jules Allemand. While the village no longer exists, the area in which it was located, today known for its antique stores and art galleries, is still known as the Swiss village.
Progress, modernity and science for all
In addition to electricity, science was on display throughout the Expo site, with the aim of educating as wide an audience as possible. A large celestial globe by Paul Louis Albert Algeron informed visitors about astronomy and allowed them to visualise the Earth and the movement of the stars and planets. Featuring concerts conducted by Saint-Saëns, the 40-metre sphere rose 60 metres above the ground, though its design was less ambitious than the initial proposal submitted by geographer Élisée Reclus.
Hugo d’Alési’s Mareorama exhibit embarked visitors on a replica ship perched five metres above the ground, taking them on a visit through different cities by using panoramic paintings and a motion platform. While moving picture exhibits already existed, the Mareorama offered a fully immersive journey by moving the visitors – up to 1,500 at a time – within the replica ship, creating a virtual and musical voyage from Marseille to Constantinople.
Looking beyond the realms of the Earth, the massive 1900 Exhibition telescope exhibit allowed visitors to see the surface of the moon as if it were “one metre away”, while Eugène Hénard’s giant kaleidoscope made use of mirrors and optical illusions to create a reality-twisting experience.
Expo 1900 Paris also honoured the development of cinema, with films by the Lumière brothers being projected on a giant screen as well as the presentation of Raoul Grimoin-Sanson’s Cinéorama technique that involves a circular screen displaying images from ten synchronised projectors. The Expo even included one of the first movie theatres, in the form of a 30-metre circular room that projected 360º images of Paris filmed from a hot air balloon. Technical difficulties, however, forced the attraction to close before the end of the Expo.
The world in Paris – international pavilions
The pavilions of international participants were a must-see at Expo 1900. Built along the left bank of the Seine, pavilions showcased each country’s style along the Rue des Nations. Russia’s large pavilion was in a baroque style, the United Kingdom’s pavilion was in the form of an Elizabethan manor, and Spain’s pavilion borrowed from the design of the Alcázar of Toledo. The pavilion of Germany was designed by Johannes Radke in a neo-Renaissance style, while the ‘palace’ of Monaco was inspired by Florentine architecture. Sweden was represented with a wood chip covered derrick, and Norway’s pavilion was a traditional chalet.
Some of the international pavilions had a second life after the Expo: Greece’s pavilion, designed by Lucien Magne, moved to Athens to become the Agios Sostis church, and Peru’s pavilion returned to Lima where it inspired the building that now hosts a research centre on military history.
An unforgettable event
Expo 1900 Paris became a symbol of Paris, France, and the Belle-Époque. Organised during an era of economic growth, optimism and the proliferation of new forms of entertainment, the 1900 Exposition Universelle reflected scientific progress and artistic developments such as Art Nouveau, photography and cinema. It was a popular success with 51 million visitors at a time when France had a population of 41 million. It also had a lasting impact on the cityscape of the French capital thanks to the new infrastructure and impressive monuments. The Expo won hearts and minds through its spectacular shows and by sharing the new ideas, products and innovations from around the world.