GHENT, BELGIUM 1913
Exposition universelle et internationale
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Quick List Info
Dates Open - April 26 to November 3, 1913. Open 192 days.
Attendance - 9,503,419. Some reports list 11 million visitors. This might be a paid plus staff total. 86,000 season tickets sold.
International Participants - 26 nations and more than 7 colonies.
Total Cost - 16.5m FB ($3.3 million).
Site Acreage - 312 acres in Citadelpark.
Sanction and Type - Prior to the Bureau of International
Exhibitions. Would be considered a Universal (Registered) Expo like those on the 0 year of a decade or a Special (Registered) Expo like those on the 5 year of a decade.
Ticket Cost - Full Adult 3 BF ($0.60). Season Ticket cost 20 BF ($4.00).
Photo top center: Overhead picture of the Ghent Exposicion Universelle, 1913, Original Source Unknown. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Official poster of the Ghent 1913 Exposition, 1913, J. E. Goossens, Bruxelles. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Column Below: Another poster of the Ghent exposition, 1913. Courtesy Ghent University Library via Pinterest.
Let's be real. The reason the Ghent Universelle Exposition is not in the forefront of international expositions is the fact that by the end of the fair in November, the city was in jeopardy of being overrun by German tanks. Oh, that didn't actually happen until August 3, 1914, and newspaper reports during the fair really didn't state that possibility, but you get the idea. It was a fair whose legacy was World War I. When you consider that it's theme was "Peace, Industry, and Art," was patroned and opened by the King of Belgium, Albert, and that much of the buzz around the exposition was about France and Germany instead of Belgium, the polite and wonderful aspects of the fair gets lost. In fact, the entire fair gets lost in the shuffle of both world's fair and world history in many ways as well.
Ghent had hosted smaller expositions in prior decades, including the Provincial Exposition held in East Flanders in 1899, but not joined the plethora of large scale Belgium exhibitions until 1913. Yes, they picked the wrong year. And it was not just a pending war that caused negative publicity. Some of the native Filipino village participants died from exposure.
The fair had started out on a better footing, although drawing participation for another Belgian fair was difficult considering Brussels 1910 Exposition. The idea had been floated since 1905 with royal patronage coming in 1911, allowing invitations to foreign nations. A subsidy came from the federal government, 7.5 million francs, as well as a Ghent guarantee of 4.5 million francs. It was promoted well. There were new hotels built, including the Flandria Palace Hotel, which is still there.
Once the exposition opened in April by King Albert and Queen Elizabeth, sixty international Congresses were held on diverse topics to solve the world's problems. They didn't work. Four pavilions for the main Belgian cities of Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, and Liege, flower beds galore, 18,932 exhibitors, of which 5,000 were from Belgium and 10,000 were from France, and the international participants marveled the visitors. There were national pavilions for Germany, Argentina, Canada, Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, and Persia. There were colonial pavilions for Belgium, Congo, France, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and French India. In the International Hall, exhibits from Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, California, Denmark, United States, Guatemala, Japan, Romania, and Russia permeated the building. The Festival Palace, which was meant to be permanent, covered 7.5 acres.
Above photo. King and Queen of Belgium at the Opening Ceremony of the Ghent International Exposition, 1913. Courtesy Library of Congress. Middle: Brussels Pavilion, 1913. Courtesy Pinterest. Bottom: Drawing of the Ghent 1913 exposition site, 1917, Armand Heins. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
There is some thought that the fair did not do well drawing visitors, although that was not the main problem. With over nine million verified visitors, including 1.5 million French tourists, three hundred thousand more than came to Brussels in 1910, it was the atmosphere of conflict that permeated Europe, plus those unforseen circumstances that caused the negative after fair publicity. A significant deficit added to that feeling, even considering the subsidies by the nation and city, the fair was still 2.5 million FB ($500,000) in the hole. Of course, some say the attendance figures were grossly exagerated and that the fair was almost deserted on rainy days.
Andre Capiteyn - "There was royal support and royal presence at the opening. Several senators and congressmen were members of the organization. However, the national pride was less pronounced then at the World's Fair in Brussels 1910. Ghent was mainly used as a platform for the national feelings of France versus Germany, at the eve of World War I. The representation of France was as big as that of Belgium. (New Ideas) Introduction of electricity - approved. Introduction of modern architecture in the German section (Neue Sachlichkeit): highly disapproved. There was no specific theme. There was a slight risk of a strike by the workmen in the last weeks before the opening, but it was avoided by compromise.
Ghent organized several industrial exhibitions in the 19th century, among them the Provincial Exibition 99. Financed by stockholders and subsidized by the state, the province and the city. In Ghent a new railway-station was built for the event, which is still the main station of the town today.
Prior to BIE
International Participants Nations and Colonies
Austria 34, Belgium, Denmark 10, Spain 100, France 10,562, Great Britain 752, Luxembourg 2, Monaco 1, Netherlands 653, Romania 55, Russia 34, Switzerland 2, Tunisia (COL-FRANCE) 193, Argentina 281, Bolivia 77, Brazil 2, Chile 1, Mexico 22, Dominican Republic, Guatemala 82, United States 71 including California 80, Canada, Japan 36, Persia 147, Germany (unofficial) 700, Italy (unofficial) 60.
Colonial pavs - Belgian colonies, Congo, French colonies (Indochina and others), Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, French India.
There were unofficial exhibits from Bulgaria (U), and British India (U), and reports of Senegalese in the Filipino Village, according to some sources.
Note: Number of exhibits listed after name, if known. 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.
Receipts were nearly 6 million FB, of which paid admissions and subscriptions/season tickets were 2,384,000 FB, exhibitor payments 1,657,243 FB, and concessions 1,900,828 FB.
Some of the most popular attractions were the Congo Pavilion and the old Flanders area. The flower shows, a staple of Ghent, were also a highlight.
The fair commemorated the 110th anniversary of the first French exhibition in the city by Napolean Bonaparte.
In the town of Ghent, the new railway station built for the fair remains as the main station of the city. The Flandria Palace Hotel still remains, now a National Heritage site. A building in the Modern Village is now used by the Sint Gerardus School. Most of the other buildings were destroyed during World War I or dismantled.
Those in Charge
Patron of the fair was King Albert 1st.
Sources: Ghent City Archives; Golden Book; Official Report of Antwerp 1930; Expositions Internationale en Belgique; Les Expositions Universelle en Belgique; London Times; New York Times; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs; Les Fastes du Progres; Fair News; Bureau of International Expositions.
Photo column top: Exposition poster for the Southeastern and Chatham Railway, 1913. Courtesy Ghent University Library via Pinterest. Middle: German soldiers on the Boulevard Bolwerk in Brussels, 1914. Courtesy Library of Congress. Bottom: Holland Pavilion at Ghent's Universal Expositoin, 1913. Courtesy Pinterest.
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