A world's fair, world fair, world expo, or universal exposition (sometimes expo or Expo for short) is a large international exhibition designed to showcase achievements of nations. These exhibitions vary in character and are held in different parts of the world. The most recent international exhibition, Expo 2017, was held in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Since the 1928 Convention Relating to International Exhibitions came into force, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE; English: International Bureau of Exhibitions) has served as an international sanctioning body for world's fairs. Four types of international exhibition are organised under the auspices of the BIE: World Expos, Specialized Expos, Horticultural Expos (regulated by the International Association of Horticultural Producers) and the Triennale di Milano. Depending on their category, international exhibitions may last from three weeks to six months.
World's fairs originated in the French tradition of national exhibitions, a tradition that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. This fair was followed by other national exhibitions in continental Europe and the United Kingdom.
The best-known 'first World Expo' was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom, in 1851, under the title "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations". The Great Exhibition, as it is often called, was an idea of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, and is usually considered to be the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It influenced the development of several aspects of society, including art-and-design education, international trade and relations, and tourism. These events have resulted in a remarkable form of Prince Albert's life history, one that continues to be reflected in London architecture in a number of ways, including in the Albert Memorial later erected to the Prince. This expo was the most obvious precedent for the many international exhibitions, later called world's fairs, that have continued to be held to the present time.
Since their inception in 1851, the character of World Expos has evolved. Three eras can be distinguished: the era of industrialization, the era of cultural exchange, and the era of nation branding.
The first era could be called the era of "industrialization" and covered, roughly, the period from 1800 to 1938. In these days, world expositions were especially focused on trade, and were famous for the display of technological inventions and advancements. World expositions were the platforms where the state-of-the-art in science and technology from around the world were brought together. The world expositions of 1851 London, 1853 New York, 1862 London, 1876 Philadelphia, 1889 Paris, 1893 Chicago, 1897 Brussels, 1900 Paris, 1901 Buffalo, 1904 St. Louis, 1915 San Francisco, and 1933–34 Chicago were landmarks in this respect. Inventions such as the telephone were first presented during this era. An important part of the image of world's fairs stems from this first era.
The 1939–40 New York World's Fair diverged from the original focus of the world's fair expositions. From then on, world's fairs adopted specific cultural themes; they forecasted a better future for society. Technological innovations were no longer the primary exhibits at fairs. The theme of the 1939 fair was "Building the World of Tomorrow"; at the 1964–65 New York World's Fair, it was "Peace Through Understanding"; at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, it was "Man and His World". The fairs encouraged effective intercultural communication for the exchange of innovation.
The 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal was promoted under the name Expo 67. Event organizers retired the term world's fair in favor of Expo. (The Montreal Expos, a former Major League Baseball team, was named for the 1967 fair.)
From World Expo 88 in Brisbane onwards, countries started to use Expos more widely and more strongly as a platform to improve their national images through their pavilions. Finland, Japan, Canada, France and Spain are cases in point. A large study by Tjaco Walvis called "Expo 2000 Hanover in Numbers" showed that improving national image was the primary participation goal for 73% of the countries at Expo 2000. In a world where a strong national image is a key asset, pavilions became advertising campaigns, and the Expo a vehicle for 'nation branding'. Apart from cultural and symbolic reasons, organizing countries (and the cities and regions hosting them) also utilize the world exposition to brand themselves. According to branding expert Wally Olins, Spain used Expo '92 and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona in the same year to underline its new position as a modern and democratic country and present itself as a prominent member of the European Union and the global community.
At Expo 2000 Hannover, where countries created their own architecture, the average pavilion investment was about €12 million. Given these costs, governments are sometimes hesitant to participate, because benefits are often assumed not to outweigh the costs. Tangible effects are difficult to measure, but an independent study for the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2000 estimated that the pavilion (which cost around €35 million) generated around €350 million of potential revenues for the Dutch economy. It also identified several key success factors for world-exposition pavilions in general.
Presently, there are two types of international exhibition: World Expos (formally known as International Registered Exhibitions) and Specialised Expos (formally known as International Recognised Exhibitions). World Expos, previously known as universal expositions, are the biggest category events. At World Expos, participants generally build their own pavilions. They are therefore the most extravagant and most expensive expos. Their duration may be between six weeks and six months. Since 1995, the interval between two World Expos has been at least five years. The latest World Expo Expo 2015 was held in Milan, Italy, from May 1 to October 31, 2015.
Specialized Expos are smaller in scope and investments and generally shorter in duration; between three weeks and three months. Previously, these Expos were called Special Exhibitions or International Specialized Exhibitions but these terms are no longer used officially. Their total surface area must not exceed 25 ha and organizers must build pavilions for the participating states, free of rent, charges, taxes and expenses. The largest country pavilions may not exceed 1,000 m2. Only one Specialised Expo can be held between two World Expos.
An additional two types of international exhibition may be recognized by the BIE: horticultural exhibitions, which are joint BIE and AIPH-sanctioned 'garden' fairs in which participants present gardens and garden pavilions; and the semi-regular Milan Triennial (not always held every third year) art and design exhibition, held in Milan, Italy, with the BIE granting official international exhibition status to 14 editions of the Triennale between 1996 and 2016.
World Expos (formally known as International Registered Exhibitions) encompass universal themes that affect the full gamut of human experience, and international and corporate participants are required to adhere to the theme in their representations. Registered expositions are held every 5 years because they are more expensive as they require total design of pavilion buildings from the ground up. As a result, nations compete for the most outstanding or memorable structure—recent examples include Japan, France, Morocco & Spain at Expo '92. Recent Registered Expositions include Brussels Expo '58, Montreal Expo 67, Osaka Expo '70, and Seville Expo '92. Sometimes prefabricated structures are also used to minimize costs for developing countries or for countries from a geographical block to share space (i.e. Plaza of the Americas at Seville '92).
The only Registered (Universal) exposition to be held without BIE approval was the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. The sanctioning organization at Paris denied them "official" status because its president, Robert Moses, did not comply with BIE rules in place at the time, namely the one limiting the duration for universal expositions to six months only. Both World's Fairs in New York (1939–40 and 1964–65) have the distinction of being the only two-year world expositions in history. The Fair proceeded without BIE approval and turned to tourism and trade organizations to host national pavilions in lieu of official government sponsorship. However, a large number of countries did participate in the world's fair including several newly independent African and Asian states.
Frederick Pittera, a producer of international fairs and exhibitions and author of the history of world's fairs in the Encyclopædia Britannica and Compton Encyclopedia, was commissioned by Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. of New York City in 1959 to prepare the first feasibility studies for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Pittera was joined in his study by Austrian architect Victor Gruen (Inventor of the 'Shopping Mall').The Eisenhower Commission ultimately awarded the world's fair bid to New York City against several major U.S. cities.
Since the turn of the 21st century the BIE has moved to sanction expos only every five years; following the numerous expos of the 1980s and 1990s, some see this as a means to cut down potential expenditure by participating nations. The move was also seen by some as an attempt to avoid conflicting with the Summer Olympics. The rule may apply to all expos, or it may end up that universal expositions will be restricted to every five years or so, with international or specialized expositions in the in-between years for countries wishing to celebrate a special event. The most recent universal expo is Expo 2015 in Milan.
Specialized Expos (formally known as International Recognized Exhibitions) are usually united by a precise theme — such as 'Future Energy' (Expo 2017 Astana), 'The Living Ocean and Cost' (Expo 2012 Yeosu, or 'Leisure in the Age of Technology' (Brisbane, Expo '88). Such themes are more specific than the wider scope of world expositions.
The Specialized Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, popularly known as Expo '85 was held in the city of Tsukuba located near Tokyo. This Exposition is more formally known as "The International Science Technology Exposition".
Specialized Expos are usually smaller in scale and cheaper to run for the host committee and participants because the architectural fees are lower and they only have to customize pavilion space provided free of charge from the Organiser, usually with the prefabricated structure already completed. Countries then have the option of 'adding' their own colours, design etc. to the outside of the prefabricated structure and filling in the inside with their own content.
|Dates||Name of Exposition||Country||City||Category||Theme|
|04/1851 – 10/1851||The Great Exhibition||United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland||London||World Expo||Industry of all Nations|
|05/1855 – 11/1855||Exhibition Universelle / Paris International||France||Paris||World Expo||Agriculture, Industry and Art|
|05/1862 – 11/1862||International Exhibition||United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland||London||World Expo||Industry and Arts|
|04/1867 – 11/1867||Exposition Universelle / Paris International||France||Paris||World Expo||Agriculture, Industry and Arts|
|05/1873 – 10/1873||Weltausstellung 1873 Wien / Austrian International Exposition||Austria-Hungary||Vienna||World Expo||Culture and Education|
|05/1876 – 11/1876||Centennial Exposition||United States||Philadelphia||World Expo||Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine|
|05/1878 – 11/1878||Exposition Universelle / Paris International Exposition||France||Paris||World Expo||New Technologies|
|10/1880 – 04/1881||Melbourne International Exhibition||Australia (colony of Victoria)||Melbourne||World Expo||Arts, Manufacturing, Agriculture and Industrial Products of all Nations|
|04/1888 – 12/1888||Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888)||Spain||Barcelona||World Expo||Fine and Industrial Arts|
|05/1889 – 10/1889||Exposition Universelle / Paris International Exposition||France||Paris||World Expo||French Revolution|
|05/1893 – 10/1893||World's Columbian Exposition||United States||Chicago||World Expo||Discovery of America|
|05/1897 – 11/1897||Brussels International Exposition||Belgium||Brussels||World Expo||Modern Life|
|04/1900 – 11/1900||Paris International||France||Paris||World Expo||19th Century: an overview|
|04/1904 – 12/1904||Louisiana Purchase||United States||St. Louis||World Expo||Louisiana Purchase|
|04/1905 – 11/1905||Liège International (1905)||Belgium||Liège||World Expo||Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of independence|
|04/1906 – 11/1906||Milan International||Italy||Milan||World Expo||Transport|
|04/1910 – 11/1910||Brussels International Exhibition||Belgium||Brussels||World Expo||Works of Art and Science, Agricultural and Industrial Products of All Nations|
|04/1913 – 11/1913||Exposition universelle et international / Ghent International Exposition||Belgium||Ghent||World Expo||Peace, Industry and Art|
|02/1915 – 12/1915||Panama–Pacific International Exposition||United States||San Francisco||World Expo||Inauguration of the Panama Canal|
|05/1929 – 01/1930||Barcelona International Exposition||Spain||Barcelona||World Expo||Arts, Industry and Sport|
|05/1933 – 10/1934||Century of Progress||United States||Chicago||World Expo||The independence among Industry and scientific research|
|04/1935 – 11/1935||Brussels International Exposition||Belgium||Brussels||World Expo||Transports|
|05/1936 – 06/1936||ILIS 1936||Sweden||Stockholm||Specialised Expo||Aviation|
|05/1937 – 11/1937||Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne / Paris International Exposition||France||Paris||World Expo||Arts and Technology in modern life|
|05/1938 – 05/1938||Second International Aeronautic Exhibition||Finland||Helsinki||Specialised Expo||Aerospace|
|04/1939 – 10/1940||New York World's Fair||United States||New York City||World Expo||Building The World of Tomorrow|
|05/1939 – 09/1939||Exposition internationale de l'eau (1939)||Belgium||Liège||Specialised Expo||Art of Water|
|07/1947 – 08/1947||International Exhibition on Urbanism and Housing||France||Paris||Specialised Expo||Urbanism and Housing|
|07/1949 – 08/1949||Universal Sport Exhibition (1949)||Sweden||Stockholm||Specialised Expo||Sport and physical culture|
|09/1949 – 10/1949||The International Exhibition of Rural Habitat in Lyon||France||Lyon||Specialised Expo||Rural Habitat|
|12/1949 – 06/1950||Exposition internationale du bicentenaire de Port-au-Prince||Haiti||Port-au-Prince||World Expo||The festival of Peace|
|04/1951 – 05/1951||The International Textile Exhibition||France||Lille||Specialised Expo||Textile|
|07/1953 – 10/1953||EA 53||Italy||Rome||Specialised Expo||Agriculture|
|09/1953 – 10/1953||Conquest of the Desert (exhibition)||Israel||Jerusalem||Specialised Expo||Conquest of the Desert|
|05/1954 – 10/1954||The International Exhibition of Navigation (1954)||Italy||Naples||Specialised Expo||Navigation|
|05/1955 – 06/1955||The International Expo of Sport (1955)||Italy||Turin||Specialised Expo||Sport|
|06/1955 – 08/1955||Helsingborg exhibition 1955||Sweden||Helsingborg||Specialised Expo||Modern Man in the Environment|
|05/1956 – 06/1956||Exhibition of citriculture||Israel||Beit Dagan||Specialised Expo||Citrus|
|07/1957 – 09/1957||Interbau||Germany||Berlin||Specialised Expo||Reconstruction of Hansa District|
|07/1958 – 09/1958||Brussels World's Fair||Belgium||Brussels||World Expo||A World View: A New Humanism|
|05/1961 – 10/1961||Expo 61||Italy||Turin||Specialised Expo||Celebration of centennial of Italian unity|
|04/1962 – 10/1962||Century 21 Exposition||United States||Seattle||World Expo||Man in the Space Age|
|06/1965 – 10/1965||IVA 65||Germany||Munich||Specialised Expo||Transport|
|04/1967 – 10/1967||Expo '67||Canada||Montreal||World Expo||Man and His World|
|04/1968 – 10/1968||HemisFair '68||United States||San Antonio||Specialised Expo||Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas|
|03/1970 – 09/1970||Expo '70||Japan||Osaka||World Expo||Progress and Harmony for Mankind|
|08/1971 – 09/1971||Expo 71||Hungary||Budapest||Specialised Expo||The Hunt through the World|
|05/1974 – 11/1974||Expo '74||United States||Spokane||Specialised Expo||Celebrating Tomorrow's Fresh New Environment|
|07/1975 – 01/1976||Expo '75||Japan||Okinawa||Specialised Expo||The Sea We would like to See|
|06/1981 – 07/1981||Expo 81||Bulgaria||Plovdiv||Specialised Expo||Hunting|
|05/1982 – 10/1982||1982 World's Fair||United States||Knoxville||Specialised Expo||Energy Turns the World|
|05/1984 – 11/1984||1984 World's Fair||United States||New Orleans||Specialised Expo||The World of Rivers– Fresh Water as a source of life|
|03/1985 – 09/1985||1985 World's Fair||Japan||Tsukuba||Specialised Expo||Dwellings and Surroundings – Science and Technology for Man at Home|
|11/1985 – 11/1985||Expo 85||Bulgaria||Plovdiv||Specialised Expo||Inventions|
|05/1986 – 10/1986||Expo '86||Canada||Vancouver||Specialised Expo||Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch|
|04/1988 – 10/1988||Expo '88||Australia||Brisbane||Specialised Expo||Leisure in the Age of Technology|
|06/1991 – 07/1991||Expo 91||Bulgaria||Plovdiv||Specialised Expo||The activity of young people in the service of a World of Peace|
|04/1992 – 10/1992||Expo '92||Spain||Seville||World Expo||The Era of Discovery|
|05/1992 – 08/1992||Expo Colombo '92||Italy||Genoa||Specialised Expo||Christopher Columbus, The Ship and the Sea|
|08/1993 – 11/1993||Expo '93||South Korea||Daejeon||Specialised Expo||The Challenge of a New Road of Development|
|05/1998 – 09/1998||Expo '98||Portugal||Lisbon||Specialised Expo||The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future|
|06/2000 – 10/2000||Expo 2000||Germany||Hanover||World Expo||Man, Nature, Technology|
|03/2005 – 09/2005||Expo 2005||Japan||Aichi||Specialised Expo||Nature's Wisdom|
|06/2008 – 09/2008||Expo 2008||Spain||Zaragoza||Specialised Expo||Water and Sustainable development|
|05/2010 – 10/2010||Expo 2010||China||Shanghai||World Expo||Better City, Better Life|
|05/2012 – 08/2012||Expo 2012||South Korea||Yeosu||Specialised Expo||The Living Ocean and Coast|
|05/2015 – 10/2015||Expo 2015||Italy||Milan||World Expo||Feeding the planet, Energy for life|
|06/2017 – 09/2017||Expo 2017||Kazakhstan||Astana||Specialised Expo||Future Energy|
The majority of the structures are temporary and are dismantled after the fair closes. Landmark towers from several fairs are notable exceptions. By far the most famous of these is the Eiffel Tower, built for the Exposition Universelle (1889). Although it is now the most recognized symbol of its host city Paris, a number of influential contemporary critics opposed its construction, and there were demands for it to be dismantled after the fair's conclusion.
Other major structures that were held over from these fairs:
Some world's fair sites became (or reverted to) parks incorporating some of the expo elements, such as:
Some pavilions have been moved overseas intact:
The Brussels Expo '58 relocated many pavilions within Belgium: the pavilion of Jacques Chocolats moved to the town of Diest to house the new town swimming pool. Another pavilion was relocated to Willebroek and has been used as dance hall Carré ever since. One smaller pavilion still stands on the boulevard towards the Atomium: the restaurant "Salon 58" in the pavilion of Comptoir Tuilier.
Many exhibitions and rides created by Walt Disney and his WED Enterprises company for the 1964 New York World's Fair (which was held over into 1965) were moved to Disneyland after the closing of the Fair. Many of the rides, including "it's a small world", and "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln", as well as the building that housed the Carousel of Progress are still in operation.
Disney had contributed so many exhibits to the New York fair in part because the corporation had originally envisioned a "permanent World's Fair" at the Flushing site. That concept instead came to fruition with the Disney theme park Epcot, an extension of the Walt Disney World Resort, near Orlando, Florida. Epcot has many of the characteristics of a typical universal exposition: national pavilions, as well as exhibits concerning technology and/or the future, along with more typical amusement park rides. Meanwhile, several of the 1964 attractions, relocated to Disneyland, have been duplicated at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Occasionally other bits and pieces of the fairs remain. In the New York City subway system, signs directing people to Flushing Meadows, Queens remain from the 1964–65 event. In the Montreal subway at least one tile artwork of its theme, "Man and His World", remains. Also, a seemingly endless supply of souvenir items from fair visits can be found, and in the United States, at least, can often be bought at garage or estate sales. Many of these events also produced postage stamps and commemorative coins. The 1904 Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the III Olympiad, were held in conjunction with the 1904 St. Louis fair, although no particular tie-in seems to have been made. The Exposition Universelle (1900) Paris was also loosely tied to the Olympic Games.)
The bidding process for this larger sized exposition formally began in 2011, with five cities being selected to participate in the final round of votes:
Other participating cities and countries that were not selected for the final voting process to host Expo 2020, or did not submit bids for consideration by the BIE:
Expo 2023 will be held at the Argentine capital and will have a theme of “Science, Innovation, Art and Creativity for Human Development. Creative Industries in Digital Convergence”.
Four countries had submitted bids to host Specialised Expo 2022/23:
At the end of the project examination phase, BIE Member States voted for Buenos Aires as the host city of Expo 2022/23 via a secret ballot at the BIE General Assembly, held in November 2017.
The Azerbaijani capital entered its candidacy before the deadline under the theme "Human Capital".
The Russian city entered its candidacy on 22 May 2017 under the theme "Changing world: inclusive innovation is for our children and future generations".
Due to the U.S. government's withdrawing its membership in the BIE from 2002 to 2017, Worlds Fair USA is the first private Worlds Fair effort in history. Worlds Fair USA is organizing a series of mini-World's Fairs around the country called World's Fair Nano in cities like San Francisco and New York City in order to build excitement for the six month World's Fair, which Worlds Fair USA hopes to organize within the decade.
The Los Angeles World's Fair is another non-BIE effort.
The BIE, since 1959  grants recognition to the International Horticultural Exhibitions (Category A1) approved by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) subject to it meeting certain criteria including being approved by the BIE general assembly.
International Horticultural Exhibitions (upcoming in italics):