International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art, Edinburgh 1886

International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art

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Quick List Info

Edinburgh 1886

Dates Open - May 6 to October 30, 1886.

Attendance - 2,769,632.

International Participants - More than 14 nations and colonies.

Total Cost - Total cost unknown. The cost of buildings estimated at L30,000. Old Edinburgh cost 3,500-3,800L. Profit of L5,555.

Site Acreage - 25 acres in Meadows Park.

Sanction and Type - Prior to the Bureau of International Expositions. Would be considered a Recognized Expo with Special qualities like on the 2-3, 7-8 years of each decade today.

Ticket Cost - Season tickets sold 14,000.

Photo top center: Exhibition Building of the Edinburgh 1886 International Exhibition, 1886. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Another drawing of the Exhibition Building, 1886. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Bottom: Advertising card for exhibitor J.G. Stewart, 1886, J.G. Stewart. Courtesy Pinterest.

Edinburgh 1886 Advertising Card

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History of the Event

Old Edinburgh

Yes, they were competing with cities of the British isles, but especially with their brethren Glasgow, and in the case of international exhibitions, Edinburgh would beat them to it. After holding a smaller event in 1884, the city would attempt the 1886 International Exhibition of Industry, Science, and Art as a public relations salvo for the commerce of the city. It was launched by the Merchant Society, would mark Scotland's initial foray into a large scale electric lighting project, and include a Grand Hall and Old Edinburgh section. That section, which focused on the buildings of the 14th and 16th century was the hit of the fair.

Yes, it was predominantly Scottish with its exhibits and limited in international scope, but it was one of the largest British events to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee. The exhibition buildings would cover 8.5 acres and the subscriptions for funding had its goal of L25,000 easily surpassed. By April 29, there had been L32,000 raised. There would be two main buildings, one intended to be permanent 120 feet by 350 feet. The temporary structure would be even larger, 950 feet by 350 feet and have courts and sections for the nations and departments. The main building would have 112,000 square feet for exhibits.

Prince Albert Victor, grandson of the Queen, opened the fair on May 6 in front of 40,000.

Above photo. View of Old Edinburgh, Brymson's House, 1886, Marshall Wane. Courtesy Pinterest. Below: View of the Main Exhibition Building Interior, 1886, Original source unknown. Courtesy Pinterest.

View of the Interior Edinburgh 1886
By June, the London Times was praising its success. The exhibition had far exceeded expectations. Yes, those foreign exhibits were small compared to the past London fairs, only one hundred foreign exhibitors against a total of two thousand three hundred. They put the foreign nations together in two courts instead of the traditional by nation format. That probably made it seem like there were more. Altogether, there were twenty thousands exhibits by those exhibitors. By July, the Times kept touting the surprise that the exhibition was doing so well, noting a coming visit of the Queen in August (she would come for two days, August 18 and 19) and that visitation was pulling in over 12,000 visitors per day. In the end, the Edinburgh exhibition turned a profit, and Edinburgh commercial interests were pleased. So pleased that hosting another fair in 1890 was quickly thought of. The special expo, known as the "The International Exhibition of Electrical Engineering, General Inventions and Industries" was nearly as successful, drawing only a couple hundred thousand fewer only four years later.

Teepossible T-Shirts and Gifts

Prior to BIE

View of Old Edinburgh

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France, Russia, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Hungary, Italy, Malaga, Holland, Great Britain, Scotland.

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as official publications may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur, occurred minimally, or miss unofficial participation at all. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Expo Tidbits
Exposition had an Artisans and Women's Industry section.

Neilson and Company of Glasgow exhibited the Caledonian Railway Single steam locomotive.

The site of the exhibition, Meadows Park, remains, although the buildings are gone. Some articles from the fair do make an appearance. The Memorial armillary sundial that makes the opening of the fair is on the Meadows site. Eighteen memorial pillars are located on Melville Drive. Throughout the city, other reminders remain, including the Brassfounder's Statue, a 17th century cannon exhibited at the event, Caledonian Railway CR 123, and the fair's cast iron gates. They're at Falkirk. Zetland and Fair Isle Knitting exhibited whale jawbones, which form the entrance to Jaw Bone Walk.

Meadows, Edinburgh

Those in Charge
Great Hall was designed by Glasgow architect John Burnet. Queen and Prince of Wales were patrons, and the Marquis of Lothian was the exhibition president

Sources: London Times; Fair News; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; Glasgow's Great Exhibitions; The Great Exhibitions; Stanly K. Hunter/Exhibition Study Group; "Lost Edinburgh; The International Exhibition 1886", David McLean,

Photo column top: View of Old Edinburgh, Mercat Cross, 1886, Marshall Wane. Courtesy Pinterest. Middle: View of the Meadows, site of the Exhibition in Edinburgh, 2012, Kym Traynor. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

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