The concept of a World’s Fair or Exposition began in France as early as 1844 with the holding of an industrial exhibit in Paris. But the 1st real “Expo” was held 7 years later in the Crystal Palace in London, under the title “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. An idea of Prince Albert, the “Great Exhibition” was the first truly international showcase of progress, that was soon to have a greater impact on aspects of society including global trade, foreign relations, tourism and art and design.
Spanish Philippines was quick to adapt such events that aimed to increase commercial and economic relation between the archipelago and the metropolis while showing indigenous achievements to the Spaniards. 1887 saw the first Philippine participation in the Exposicion de Madrid in Spain, where the quality of exhibits—mostly fine arts-- was met with mixed reviews. Even then, this fair pre-dated American expositions by a good number of years.
It was only in 1893 that America held its own World's Columbian Exposition (also called The Chicago World's Fair) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Forty six foreign countries participated, and over 26 million came to visit. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world fairs, becoming a symbol of then-emerging American Exceptionalism.
A little over a decade later, the St. Louis’ World’s Fair held in Missouri to mark the Louisina Purchase, dazzled the world with its grand attractions, led by its new colony in the Far East—the Philippines.
The Philippine Exposition drew large crowds every day with its exotic shows of tribal groups in recreated native settings. Here, Igorots, Aetas,Bagobos,Tagalogs and Bisayans wowed thousands with their daily performance of music, sports and regional rituals, so strange to foreign eyes.
Though heavily criticized for the manner in which Filipinos and other ethnic groups were presented, the exposition was a resounding success, what with the fair also playing host to the 1904 Olympics, 62 countries and 20 million visitors.
Our love affair with fairs, carnivals and expositions have just begun...