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Overview

The Industrial Revolution brought unprecedented change to the Western world. It was an age of accelerated advancement spurred on by a unquenchable thirst for innovation and a new lust for progress. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Conceived and designed as a spectacular display of manufacturing achievements, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was attended by six million people attracted to the 8,200 exhibitors' "modern" wares. Joseph Paxton's enormous Crystal Palace, built from 900,000 square feet of glass to house the exposition, is testimony to the scale of the event's ambition and success.

Although mostly supported by British vendors, foreign nations were an integral part of the event. The vast cross-section of products exhibited from the nations of the world was a profound statement of what many believed healthy competition, free trade, and general political stability could achieve. More than any previous exposition, this event provided a tremendous opportunity for comparisons of leading products and new innovations, and catalyzed subsequent advancements. These technological advancements were detailed in the exhibitors' prospectuses.

The Great Exhibition of 1851: Prospectuses of Exhibitors provides insight into the design, technological innovations, business activities, and marketing of the time. Comprising nearly 900 individual prospectuses from businesses around the world, the collection is divided into four general categories: raw materials, machinery, manufactures, and fine arts. Within these categories, the material has been organized into 30 classes. Prospectuses are included on the following types of products.

Raw Materials

  • mining and mineral products
  • chemical and pharmaceutical products
  • substances used as food
  • vegetable and animal substances used in manufactures

Machinery

  • machines for direct use (carriages, railways, etc.)
  • manufacturing machines and tools
  • civil engineering, architecture, and building contrivances
  • naval architecture, military engineering, guns, weapons, etc.
  • agricultural and horticultural machines and implements
  • philosophical and horological instruments
  • musical instruments
  • surgical instruments

Manufactures

  • woolen & worsted, mixed fabrics
  • leather, saddlery, boots and shoes, skins, fur, hair
  • paper, printing, and bookbinding
  • tapestry, floor cloths, lace, and embroidery
  • cutlery, edge, and hand tools
  • general hardware including locks and grates works in precious metals, jewelry, etc. glass
  • china, porcelain, earthenware, etc. furniture, upholstery, paper hangings, papier mache, and Japanned goods

Fine Arts

  • sculpture, models and plastic art, enamels, etc.

The prospectuses are a major source for students and scholars researching the historical aspects of economics, business, music, agriculture, architecture, sociology, and communications.

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