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Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851 Was a Milestone in Technology

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The Great Exhibition of 1851 Was Held at the Crystal Palace in London
Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, home to the Great Exhibition of 1851

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The Great Exhibition of 1851 was held in London inside an enormous structure of iron and glass known as the Crystal Palace. In five months, from May to October 1851, six million visitors thronged the gigantic trade show, marveling over the latest technology as well as displays of artifacts from around the world.

The idea of the Great Exhibition originated with Henry Cole, an artist and inventor. But the man who ensured the event happened in spectacular fashion was Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria.

Albert recognized the value of organizing a massive trade show that would place Britain at the forefront of technology by displaying its latest inventions, everything from massive steam engines to the latest cameras. Other nations were invited to participate, and the official name of the show was The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.

The building to house the exhibit, which was quickly dubbed the Crystal Palace, was constructed of prefabricated cast iron and panes of plate glass. Designed by architect Joseph Paxton, the building itself was a marvel.

The Crystal Place was 1,848 feet long and 454 feet wide, and covered 19 acres of London's Hyde Park. Some of the park's stately trees were enclosed by the building.

Nothing like the Crystal Palace had ever been built, and skeptics predicted that wind or vibration would cause the colossal structure to collapse.

Prince Albert, exercising his royal privilege, had detachments of soldiers march through the various galleries before the exhibit opened. No panes of glass broke loose as the soldiers marched about in lockstep, and the building was deemed safe for the public.

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