19 Amazing Things That Shaped The Paris Exposition Of 1900

The Paris Exposition of 1900 — Paris Exposition Universelle — introduced marvels that would shape the future as they ushered in the dawn of the twentieth century. The world's fair was visited by an astounding fifty million visitors and featured flying machines, plus other inventions and architecture that would mark the new century, among them the Grande Roue ferris wheel, diesel engines, talking films, escalators, and the first magnetic audio recorder, called the telegraphone.

The 1900 Paris Exposition had the largest participation of any exposition with more than 83,000 exhibitors. But most importantly, it secured Paris' reputation as a leading city of the modern age. Paris showed the world that it was in the forefront of technological innovation with the Metro, Gare de Lyon, and the Pont d'Alexandre III. Here are some highlights.

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1. 543 Acres of Fairgrounds

543 Acres of Fair 543 acres of fair, note the yellow Eiffel Tower

The fairgrounds of the 1900 Exposition Universelle were the biggest in history, spanning 543 acres with the prime locations at the Champ de Mars, the Trocadero, the Esplanade des Invalides, and along the banks of Seine.

2. Campbell's Soup

Campbell's Soup Gold medal won by Campbell's Soup

Campbell's Soup was awarded a gold medal for excellence. The medallion still appears on many of their labels, like this one. The iconic label, by the way, was designed in the 1870s by the son of the company's founder.

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3. Panoramas

Cineorama Cinéorama, preceding Disney by a half century

It was the year of Rama-Mania, with panorama presentations like Cinéorama, Mareorama, and Trans-Siberian Railway Panorama taking the Paris Expo by storm. Cinéorama, a clever union of panoramic paintings and cinema, simulated a hot air balloon ride over Paris. It was a short run, however — expo organizers worried that the excessive heat would cause a fire. Cinéorama was never used again but in 1955 Disney launched a 2.0 version called Circle-Vision 360° and it's still used today.

4. National Pavilions

Finnish National Pavilion 1900 Finnish National Pavilion 1900

Forty-seven countries from around the world designed and constructed their unique national pavilions. The British modeled theirs after an aristocratic castle; the German pavilion resembled a beer-hall; Finland had the most revolutionary exhibit with a clean and simple design (illustration above); and Sweden's bright yellow and red pavilion was a crowd favorite.

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5. The Yellow Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower 1900 Aerial photo of The Eiffel Tower at the 1900 Exposition

Although the Eiffel Tower has been painted at least eighteen different times since it was built, the only time it was painted a bright golden-yellow was in 1900.

6. The Banquet of Mayors

Huge ceremonies took place throughout the period of the exposition. One of the biggest was the Banquet des Maires. 606 tables were set up in tents among the Tuileries Gardens where every mayor from every town and village in France — 20,777 of them — sat down together to feast. Waiters in automobiles rattled up and down the aisles delivering wines and the multi-course dishes.

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7. Palais de l'Électrique

Palais de l'Électrique

The Palace of Electricity was fitted with five thousand multi-coloured incandescent lamps. It was a glowing beacon of light and quickly became the heart of the fair and one of the most loved exhibits.

8. Talking Pictures

In 1900 the Paris Exposition featured a first in cinema history. Short opera and ballet films were projected that not only had moving images, but sound as well. Although it would take a few more decades to perfect the talking picture, the technology premiered here.

9. Trottoirs Roulants

Moving sidewalks

Moving sidewalk at the Italian Pavilion Visitors traveled by moving sidewalktrottoirs roulants — and were able to choose a lane to get to the Palais Trocadero atop the hill of Chaillot — fast, medium, or slow. (By the way, the current buildings at Trocadero date from the 1937 Universal Exposition.)

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10. The Brand-New Paris Metro

Paris Metro The Paris Metro in 19010

The opening of the new Metropolitan underground railway — The Paris Metro — was inaugurated on July 14, 1900. An engineer named Fulgence Bienvenue, known as Le Pere du Metro, started work on the ambitious plan in 1896. His Metro has been praised as "worthy of the Romans".

11. Matryoshkas

Bet you thought those Russian nesting dolls, called matryoshka, are a traditional part of Slavic culture. But, no, they were only introduced in 1900 at the expo. The first Russian doll set wasn't even designed until 1890 and later presented in Paris, where it earned a bronze medal.

12. Olympic Games

Paris Olympics 2024 The Olympics are back in Paris in 2024

The first Olympic Games outside of Greece were also part of the Paris Exposition of 1900. Most of events took place at the Bois de Vincennes, the big expanse of parkland on the eastern side of the city. The velodrome, still found there today, with seating for forty thousand, was built specifically for the cycling events. Did you know that women's croquet was an Olympic event back then, and 1900 was the first time women competed at the Olympics? You could also have seen the Jai Alai events and polo and even tug of war!

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13. Grande & Petit Palais

Petit Palais, photo by Mark Craft

Although most of the expo buildings were demolished after the the exposition, a few have endured the test of time, including the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. Today, the Petit Palais is the permanent location for Beaux Arts museum of the city of Paris. Across the street, the Grand Palais' iron and glass structure is used for many civic and art events.

14. Diesel

German engineer Rudolf Diesel's invention, debuted at the Paris Exposition 1900, would change the world. His engine (named… you know) was demonstrated running on peanut oil. By 1939 diesel power fueled a quarter of the global sea trade. Diesel himself wouldn't live to see it. He mysteriously disappeared in 1913 from a steam ship somewhere in the North Seas as he was heading to a meeting in London.

15. Other Paris Expos

1878 Expo The actual head of the Statue of Liberty on display at the 1878 expo

Paris was crazy for expos in the 19th century. Other Paris Expositions Universelles happened in 1855, 1867, 1878, and 1889. The Eiffel Tower made its debut at the 1889 event.

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16. Gare de Lyon

Gare de Lyon 1900

Another Belle Epoque wonder, the Gare de Lyon, was built in the 12th Arrondissement for the world exposition. Its restaurant, Le Train Bleu, is still open. Today, Gare de Lyon is one of Paris' busiest train stations.

17. Art Nouveau

Art nouveau was everywhere at the Paris Exposition in 1900. René Lalique displayed his decadent jewelry in the Decorative Arts display. He was also named officer of the French Legion d'Honneur in that same year. Other Art Nouveau artists at the expo were Gaillard, Guimard, and Charpentier.

18. Auguste Rodin Solo Pavilion

The sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 to 1917) also made a name for himself at the 1900 World's Fair. The Gates of Hell, his first official French government commission, debuted in a pavilion dedicated solely to him and filled with his sculptures.

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19. Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III

The beautifully ornate Pont Alexandre III opened on April 14, 1900. This Beaux-Arts-style bridge with its Art Nouveau lamps, winged horses and cherubs, spans the Seine connecting the Champs-Elysées to the Invalides and then the Eiffel Tower. It's considered an engineering triumph and is classified as a French historic monument.

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