International Exhibition Edinburgh 1890

International Exhibition of Electricity, Engineering,
General Inventions and Industries

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Quick List Info

Token from Edinburgh 1890

Dates Open - May 1 to November 1, 1886.

Attendance - 2,414,129 (Net 2,364,011).

International Participants - 15 nations plus colonies.

Total Cost - Total cost unknown. Building estimated to cost more than L35,000. There was a Guarantee fund of L25,410. Eventual deficit was L24,917.

Site Acreage - 44 acres of Meggetland with 90 acres available for use.

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 - Open day public entrance fee was 2/6d (12.5 p). Not known what a regular day cost, but cheap tickets were available for evening admission on Fridays at 6d (2.5 p), later changed to Wednesdays. To encourage attendance, children were admitted to the outdoor amusements till 2 p.m. for a penny. Employers could purchase tickets for servants and wives at 4d.

Photo top center: Engraving of the Exhibition Building of the Edinburgh 1890 International Exhibition, 1890. Courtesy Antique Paper Company. To purchase that print at high poster resolution, visit Antiquepapercompany on Ebay. Column Top: Site Map of Edinburgh 1890, 1890, Fair Authority. Courtesy Scottish Exhibitions Study Group.

Other Histories of World's Fairs to Check Out

History of the Event

Forth Bridge

Talk about a fair of lost proportions. It doesn't get a mention in the Historical Dictionary of World's Fair and you have trouble finding any information about it online. But the International Exhibition of Electricity, Engineering, General Inventions and Industries drew almost as many visitors through its doors as the 1886 Edinburgh fair, over two million, on a site of larger proportions and with exhibitors and organizers of the likes of Thomas Edison. It included a Japanese Village, a Swiss Chalet, a camp of those Laplanders, and two large buildings for exhibits, one housing industrial, art and general exhibits, and the other electircal and engineering.

The Duke of Edinburgh, 2nd oldest son to Queen Victoria, opened the fair on May 1 admist hopes of surpassing the fair of four years ago and several thousand guests at the Music Hall. There was transportation connecting sections of the larger site, including an electric railway, switchback railway, and telpherage railway. The exhibits included a Railway Court, French Electrical Annex, Shooting Gallery, Machinery Hall with a covered bridge to the North Court and Picture Galleries, an Indian Corn Palace, Music Hall, and West Court with sections for the international displays. Even though the fair was far from the center of Edinburgh, initial reports did not think that a problem. The tramways took visitors directly to the main entrance at Polwarth Terrace.

The West Courts housed the British and India exhibits, with the East Courts holding the foreign exhibits. The Machinery Hall was nearly 700 feet long. The National Panorama showed a one hundred foot diorama on "The Battle of Trafalgar (1805)". There was a canal with gondolas and electric launches.

The exhibition did not do well, beyond the two million plus attendance. It did not raise the capital wanted (40,000L). It was held on an isolated site three miles from the center of Edinburgh owned by the Caledonian Railway and Edinburg Merchant Company, encountered bad weather, and lost money.

Above photo. Invitation to the 1889 Opening of the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, the reason for the holding of the International Exhibition in 1890, 1889. Courtesy G. Williamson. Below: Vase Exhibited at the Edinburgh Exhibition. Courtesy Pinterest.

Vase Exhibited at Edinburgh 1890
The London Times reported often about the exhibition. They noted that prior to opening exhibitors had applied for double the available space. They were not to be charged for space, unless the event lost money. They touted the exhibition and its reason, with a visit to the Forth Bridge part of the inducement to come. Eventually, they started to report on problems. The site was inconvenient, and by October, they began to note the financial troubles. The expo could not pay creditors, including the building contractor Drysdale and Gilmour, owing them L9,000 of the L26,000 cost. One month later they owed the contractors L14,700. How did that happen? Perhaps additional contractors wanted to get paid as well.

Teepossible T-Shirts and Gifts

Prior to BIE

Edinburgh 1890 Token

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Austria, France, Russia, Belgium, United States, Turkey, Egypt, Japan (Japanese Village), Switzerland (Swiss Chalet), Scandinavia (Laplanders), Oriental Court, plus Colonies, including India.

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
One of the most interesting exhibits at the fair was Edison's latest phonograph recordings, which visitors could listen to in the Lecture Hall.

The exposition was held on the site of a former battle between England and Scotland.

The ornamental tower of the main entrance to the building was painted white, red, and green.

There's not much legacy to the exhibition, either in historic international exposition records or of the exhibition itself. After the fair, the grounds east of the railroad cut became bungalows and housing and the ground west used for sporting grounds of Edinburgh University.

Edinburgh Castle

Those in Charge
S. Lee Babty was General Manager. President was the Marquis of Lothian, the Secretary for Scotland. Thomas Edison was Vice President.

Sources: London Times; Glasgow Herald; Stanley K. Hunter; Scottish Exhibition Study Group - Newsletter #3, Winter 1998/9" Lost Edinburgh; Brisbane Courier.

Photo column top: Token commemorating the Edinburgh International Exhibition 1890, 1890. Courtesy Middle: View of Edinburgh Castle at turn of the century, 1905, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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To the 1890s

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