Prince Albert had a dream: that one-day, world trade could guarantee the peace in the world, so he visualized a project for an international exhibition, however, the opposition in the parliament labeled it absurd when the project required to cut down the trees of Hyde Park, but the objective of these attacks weren’t the trees but the prince who had always been ridiculed, his reputation was at stake and his dream too.
However, an unexpected help came from Joseph Paxton, who was the son of a farmer, who had begun working at the age of 15 as a gardener’s assistant on the property of William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, and 5 years later was promoted as head gardener with the Duke’s support, who was very impressed by his skills and enthusiasm.
Paxton maintained a friendly relationship with his assistants whom they recognized his talent. One of Paxton’s first projects was to redesign the garden around the north wing of the House and to expand the Chatsworth conifer collection.
Paxton believed in himself and had a great imagination, he used to see beyond the limits of the Duke’s plantations, his ideas of improvement caught the attention of his noble employer.
Paxton was ascending rapidly, at 40 he ran the Duke’s Estate, and he became a wealthy man with investments in bridges, railroads and gas factories even founded a newspaper with Charles Dickens as editor.
Paxton was the typical Victorian businessman who seemed to excel at everything, he knew that the project of Prince Albert was destined to fail without a great building, so he made a preliminary sketch on blotting paper, a giant greenhouse. Prince Albert was delighted, a glass-based building could be raised quickly and it would not be necessary to cut down the trees of Hyde Park.
Critics were silenced, the 8-hectare frame was erected in nine weeks, 2000 workers settled in Hyde Park, 80 glassmakers assembled 18,000 glass panels, critics prayed for hail to fall, but waited in vain. The beautiful building soon conquered the heart of the nation, it was inaugurated on May 1st., 1851.
The international exhibition took place from 1 May to 15 October 1851. It was the first in a series of World’s Fairs, exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and by Prince Albert. Famous people of the time attended, including Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray.
The Crystal Palace was a wonderful and architecturally magical building, it was a glorious beginning, for the first time the Victorians saw their new world with all its novelties and inventions, they had not seen anything similar in their lives, they were delighted. It had a tremendous impact, 6 million people visited it in 3 months.
This worldwide exhibition symbolized the gaze of the human being towards progress and modernity, upon the eyes of the world, it demonstrated the supremacy of the United Kingdom as the most industrially advanced country. British artifacts occupied more than half of the Crystal Palace and reflected the subtle conflict between the old and the new, that so worried Europeans in the nineteenth century.
Several countries sent their products, mainly handmade. The British colonies sent a wide variety of products that captivated the imagination of the Victorian public. In addition, it is in this Exposition that attendees could see the difference between an emerging country (UK) that would later be known as the First World versus the other countries, the Third World.
However, it was the achievements of British industry that surprised the crowd that came to the Crystal Palace, the great exhibition was a British deployment, no other country approached them in the production of locomotives and mechanical tools, the symbols of its industrial greatness.
Upon entering the palace, visitors were dazzled, they saw all those wonderful gadgets, inventions, samples of British ingenuity and energy, it was an announcement to the world: this is the most progressive nation in the world, look what it has produced; the Victorians were delighted.
The Crystal Palace achieved everything that was expected and much more, it convinced millions of ordinary citizens that technology could bring a golden future for everyone, it also forged a feeling of national supremacy, patriotism, and support for the monarchy, the British were first convinced that with such a display of power, they could conquer the world.