Brussels World's Fair 1897

Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles

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Quick List Info

Brussels World's Fair 1897 Poster

Dates Open - April 24 to November 8, 1897. Official opening was postponed to May 10, but public was admitted to the main site on April 24.

Attendance - Two sites. Brussels main site attendance was 6 million visitors with 1.8 million attending at Tervueren.

International Participants - 28 nations and 3 colonies.

Total Cost - 5.7 million FB ($1.14 million). Receipts were 7 million BF.

Site Acreage - Some reports state the Cinquantenaire Park site was 90 acres with Tervueren up to 237 acres. Other reports list 400 acres in total.

Sanction and Type - Prior to the Bureau of International Exhibitions. Would be considered a Registered Expo like those on the 5 year of a decade.

Ticket Cost - One day ticket cost 20 BF. Subscription price for both exhibitions was $4.

Photo top center: Palace of the Colonies in the Tervueren section of the 1897 exhibition, 1897. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Official poster of the Brussels 1897 Exposition, 1897, likely Fair Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Below: Cinquantenaire Park, 2008. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Cinquantenaire Park, site of the Brussels Exhibition 1897

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History of the Event

Brussels 1897 World's Fair

Belgium may have begun later than Great Britain or France in hosting international exhibitions, but with the advent of their fairs in Antwerp 1885, the cities of Belgium began to plan more of their own. Brussels, Antwerp, and Liege all wanted fairs in the 1890's, and Brussels would host its first, the Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles, in 1897. There would be two sites; one in today's Cinquantenaire Park and the other in Turvuren, where the colonial and old Brussels would be held. There would be a tramway connecting the two sections, which were eight kilometers apart. The main buildings at Cinquantenaire was 1,200 feet long with a total area of one million square feet.

The official opening of the fair was postponed initially from April 24th, although the public was admitted then, with some reports stating that the Tervueren section was open two days earlier. When the long awaited opening was held, with King Leopold II in attendance, the exposition pushed forward in earnest. By the end of July, the exposition had paid for itself, predominantly because the main building at Cinquantenaire Park had been primarily built for the 1880 National Exhibition held on the same site. There was a festive atmosphere throughout, with the buildings, restaurants, and gardens illuminated at night. The King was particulary proud of the Palace of the Colonies, showing off his Free State of the Congo.

When the official close, with King in attendance again, occurred on October 20, there was little doubt that Brussels would attempt to host another fair. They would again in 1910, first official BIE expo in 1935, and 1958. When the final accounting of the exposition came through with a 1.3 million BF profit ($260,000), that was certain.

Above photo. Postcard from the 1897 Brussels fair, 1897, Original source unknown. Courtesy Pinterest. Below: Postcard of Bruxelles-Kermesse, old Brussels, 1897. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Brussels World's Fair of 1897
Over thirty international participants would come, twenty-two of them officially. There would be amusement panoramas to amaze the visitor, including one of the Alps and one of Cairo, plus a journey by railway, and cable railways and lifts. Success occurred despite a tough first weeks, with torrential rain causing the postponement of the opening ceremonies, plus an incomplete fair in the first month when the fountains were water free and the electric lighting was not done.

Sources: Les Expositions Universelle en Belgique; The Panoramic Dream, Antwerp and the World Exhibitions; London Times; New York Times; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; Fair News; Expositions Internationale en Belgique; Les Fastes du Progres; Fair News; Bureau of International Expositions.

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First of Brussels Fairs

Brussels World's Fair 1897

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Belgium 4500, Germany 330, Austria 232, Bosnia-Hercegovena (under Austro-Hungarian control) 59, Bulgaria 1, Denmark 12, Spain 133, France (Algeria and Tunisia) 3558, Great Britain 400, Greece 11, Hungary 477, Italy 157, Luxembourg 26, Norway 3, Netherlands 134, Portugal 38, Romania 7, Russia 14, Sweden 9, Switzerland 121, Congo 331, Liberia 23, Chili 57, Paraguay 66, Dominican Republic 101, United States 159, Persia 77, Turkey 35. The London Times also listed China and India.

Note: Number of exhibits in parenthesis. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as the official documents or secondary sources may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel. Various sources differ on who exhibited.

Expo Tidbits
New items on display included wireless telegraph by Marconi, car racing, microbian photography, new tramways, electricity applications, giant cinematograph with 20 minute film, balloon journeys, luminous fountains, large Christmas manger by italian sculptor, incubator babies, and more.

Many sporting events were held, including a major international cycling race that drew twenty thousand fans.

There were two women's sections.

Various buildings in Cinquantenaire remain, including the arch, begun for the 1880 national exhibition, and the wings of the building built for 1897. Also in the Tervueren section, the Palace of the Colonies (Congo Free State) is now the Royal Museum for Central Africa. North (Bordiau) Hall, the Colonnade, the Mosque, the Pavilion of Human Passions, and a small tower from old Brussels are also still there.

Brussels 1897 Royal Museum for Central Africa

Those in Charge

Count Adren d'Oultremont was chairman. Designers of the fair included Henry van de Velde, Paul Hankar, Gedeon Bordiau, and Gustave Serrurier-Bovy

Photo column top: Poster for the 1897 fair, 1897, Henri Privat-Livemont. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Middle: Royal Museum for Central Africa, 2007. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

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