Review of past Electrical Exhibitions

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Electrical World

New York, NY, United States
vol. 27, no. 20, p. 551, col. 1-2

Electrical Expositions.

It is generally conceded that international exhibitions are indices of the world's progress in the industries, fine arts and sciences there represented, and judging electrical industries by this criterion, there is a most remarkable and interesting record. The year 1881 was the first in which the industry had reached sufficient importance to warrant a purely electrical exhibition. Only three years before, New York electricians had inspected with a great deal of interest and admiration the Brush plant at the fair of the American Institute, held in the old skating rink at Third Avenue and Sixty-first Street. One of these Brush dynamos supplied nine arc-lights in series, in a manner which seemed to indicate commercial success. Of course nine or more lights had been run in series before, but there were very few, even of those who were called electricians, who had seen it done, and most of us were much more familiar with the old Serrin lamps used in stereopticons, which were difficult to keep maintained singly, not to mention anything like a series arrangement.

Paris has ever been a leader in international exhibitions, and in 1881 gave the world the first purely electrical one. By this time American cities had become familiar with not only nine, but forty arc-lights in series supplied from a single dynamo, and more than forty where two or more dynamos were run in series. Still, these were bold advances of the time, which now seem to us as small as the nine arc-light first seen at the skating rink.

In the Operator of Oct. 15, 1881, the predecessor of THE ELECTRICAL WORLD, there is a Paris letter describing the progress of the Exposition. In this letter we find these words: "The great Edison machine which is said to run 1200 incandescent lights has just arrived, and the bed-plate is already in the building. It is expected to be in running order in a week or 10 days, and much interest is shown in the result of the experiment." Observe the cautious statement "which is said to run; "this looks stranger at the present time than it did then, but for an exactly opposite reason.

At the Paris Exposition the first electrical congress was held, and it was there that the name ampere was officially adopted for the unit of current. Before that the Weber was the unit employed, but from this time the name became an outcast, and found no resting place until after the third electrical congress, which was held in Chicago, in 1893, for there it was proposed as a name for the unit of magnet flux, and officially rejected, but since then, without official sanction, it has been adopted.

Since the Paris Exposition of 1881 there have been many electrical exhibitions, and many of a more general nature, but in all of the latter electricity has been one of the most important features. In 1882 there was held in London, at the Crystal Palace, an electrical exposition, at which many of the exhibits which appeared in Paris the year before were shown, together with some important additions. In the year 1882 there was also held another electrical exposition in Munich, and the next year one at the Aquarium in London and one in Vienna, besides a combination gas and electric light exposition at the Crystal Palace, London. In 1884 there was an electrical exposition in Philadelphia, under the auspices of the Franklin Institute, and second only to that held in Paris in 1881.

The extraordinary interest in electrical matters which is so manifest at the present time may be said to have beg un about the year 1876. In this year we had the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, where Bell's telephone was first shown to the public. Among those who saw and used it were some of the most eminent scientists of Europe. The exhibition buildings were lighted for the first time by electricity, the Wallace-Farmer dynamo and Wallace plate carbon lamps being used. Only two years before, the invention of Gramme had revolutionized the manufacture of dynamo machinery, and had brought the vague possibility of commercial electric lighting to a near possibility. Then a practical demonstration that there were no insuperable engineering difficulties, such as lighting the Centennial buildings, did much to teach the public that the general use of electricity for lighting purposes depended simply on the cost of production.

The educational influence of industrial expositions is, in certain respects, greater than that of any other institution. If we stop to insider the amount of money that is spent on the electric bell work an average city house at the present time, we are forced to admit lat the cause lies deeper than the improvements in electric bells, it we had good, reliable bells 10 or 15 years ago, and although there have been improvements in bell work in that time, they have not been in any sense commensurate with the increased use. The fact; that the general interest in things electrical has led people into the habit of wanting every thing done by electricity, and when builders discover that intending purchasers or tenants want electric bells they begin to install them as a matter of course, even in cheap houses, along with plumbing and other so-called necessities.

So the public has become educated up to the electric light, and for several years past it has not been altogether a question of whether electric light was cheaper than other methods of illumination, but whether it is sufficiently cheap to warrant its general use.

At the time of the Philadelphia Exposition, in 1884, electric lighting was the principal electrical industry outside of telegraphy and telephony. The electric railway, which has now placed the horse on higher level of usefulness, was not known commercially until several years after this exposition.

The central station system was not sufficiently developed to make a very large use of motors possible, but three or four years saw a treat change in this respect also.

About this time the average man began to tell every one he met hat "electricity is in its infancy." This was interpreted by the initiated to be a sire indication that electricity had already passed that stage of its existence, but it, nevertheless, expressed a fact, owing to is popular appreciation, the commercial uses of electricity were rapidly growing, and would continue to grow for some time to come. After the Philadelphia Exposition electricity became one of the most important features in every exposition which followed, although there have been no more purely electrical expositions in this country until the present one. In Chicago, at the World's Fair in 1893, it was generally agreed that the electrical exhibit was not confined to Electricity Building, but extended over the entire grounds. The electric fountain, the intra-mural railway, the ubiquitous electric light, the electric launches, and many other uses of electricity made this true. Mr. Preece even went so far as to say that for him the electrical exhibit began at New York, where he landed from the steamer, and reached all the way to the White City.

The most interesting feature of the Frankfort Electrical Exposition 1891, and one which produced perhaps as great stimulus in poly-phase work as the exposition in Paris in r881 did to the direct-current interests, was the three-phase transmission from Lauffen to Frankfort, a distance of 110 miles.

At Chicago, in 1893, it was hoped that Niagara power would be on tap, but such was not the case; the present exhibition, however, will have that feature, which though somewhat belated will be none the less interesting.

In the two decades which have elapsed since the telephone was shown at the Centennial Exposition, there has been a wonderful development in electricity. Before that time the only great electrical industry was the telegraph. Next in order came electrotyping and electroplating; then burglar and fire alarms and other bell works. The other applications of electricity, such as recording instruments, here scarcely on a commercial scale. The first decade, dating from he Centennial of 1876, gave us the telephone and the electric light, aid the second decade the electric railway and electric transmission if power. Beside the larger industries there have grown up many if lesser importance, but which have greatly increased in magnitude, is, for instance, electro-deposition of metals as a refining process.

The present exposition will be in marked contrast to previous electrical expositions, and those who may recall the principal electrical exhibits of 1876, will have brought vividly before them the wonderful progress of the past two decades.


Keywords:Electrical Exhibitions : Crystal Palace
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:January 3, 2010 by: Elton Gish;