Past Expos - A short history of Expos

For over 160 years World Expos have helped humanity make sense of change and navigate through difficult times by promoting Education, Innovation and Cooperation.

The earlier Expos from 1851 to the middle of the XXth century

The earlier Expos from 1851 to the middle of the XXth century were strongly influenced by the industrial revolution and the colonial ambition of the time. Material progress based on technological innovation was at the heart of the exhibitions; and colonial pavilions where countries could showcase the exoticism of their colonies and the ethnographic characteristics of the so-called "primitive people" were great entertainment attractions of Expos. During this "age of progress" the Expos were - as the great German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin said -"the sites of the pilgrimage to the commodity fetish" and probably the most important event of cultural exchange.

The First and the Second World Wars completely modified the idea of technology as a source of progress: technology could be destructive and its use should be placed under social and political responsibility.

After World War II

After World War II, the fascination for material progress gave way to the promotion of human progress and international dialogue. Technology was still at the centre of Expos, but not as an end in itself, as a means for human development. Expo 1958 Brussels was dedicated to "Progress and Mankind"; Expo 1962 Seattle was about "Man in the Space Age"; Expo 1967 Montreal was dedicated to "Man and his world."

By creating a peaceful discussion platform, Expos started contributing to the global dialogue and fostering cooperation, namely with Expo 1967 Montreal and Expo 1970 Osaka that facilitated the "détente" of the early 1970s during the Cold War.

At the same time, the progress of decolonisation allowed the creation of new countries that became new players of Expos. The number of participating countries increased year after year: 39 in Brussels, 62 in Montreal, 78 in Osaka, 108 in Seville 1992, 155 in Hannover 2000, 193 in Shanghai 2010. Today, Expos have become a showcase for cultural diversity based on equality and respect for all cultures.

Since the year 2000

Since the year 2000, Expos have taken on a significant role of raising awareness on the importance of sustainable development and addressing the crucial challenges of our time. Expo 2000 Hannover promoted sustainable development and aligned itself explicitly with Agenda 21. Expo 2005 Aichi aimed at demonstrating that there was a clear competitive advantage in designing technology in harmony with nature. Expo 2010 Shanghai was another milestone, as it showcased solutions for sustainable urban development, in a world where half of the population lives in cities.

By providing a unique space for discussion and cooperation, Expos aim at being efficient instruments of progress in all areas linked to sustainable and human development such as the environment, energy, health or education.


View the complete list of Past World Expos

View the complete list of Past Specialised Expos

View the complete list of Past Horticultural Expos