Discover the history of the World Expo, the journey to Expo 2020 Dubai, as well as the new doors that open when our Expo draws to a close.

Expos of the Past

For 170 years, Expos have provided a platform to showcase the greatest innovations that have shaped the world we live in today.

1851 - 2015

The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum in London were both founded with profits generated by the Great Exhibition. Scholarships set up by Expo organisers are still thriving today, having funded at least 13 Nobel laureates, keeping the United Kingdom at the forefront of research and development.

Emperor Napoleon III awarded the French Legion of Honour to Charles Goodyear for his vulcanised rubber at the 1855 Expo in Paris. The vulcanisation process made it possible to shape rubber into durable clothes, shoes, balls, hats, rafts, umbrellas, and eventually automobile tires.

Charless Babbage showed off a non-working model of the ancestor of today’s supercomputers at the 1862 Expo in London. The model was a follow-up to the Difference Engine that Babbage wasn’t permitted to display at the earlier 1851 Great Exhibition.

Luxury brand Louis Vuitton owes much of its enduring success to its exposure and triumphs at world exhibitions. The company’s trunks won a bronze medal at the Expo and, thanks to their stackable, rectangular shape, proved ideal for travel.

When Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone at the Expo, Brazil’s Emperor Dom Pedro exclaimed, “My God, it talks!” While competitors were trying to make a better telegraph, the telephone’s success came from its ability to send the human voice over long distances, cementing Bell’s place in communications history.

At the 1878 Expo, just 19 years after the first oil well was drilled, Augustin Mouchot debuted a solar collector. Shaped mirrors concentrated the sun’s rays onto a black copper container filled with water, powering a refrigeration unit that produced blocks of cool ice and the first glimpse of renewable energy.

Melbourne was the first World Expo in the southern hemisphere. Its main site, the Melbourne Exhibition Building, went on to host the first parliament of Australia in 1901, function as a hospital during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-20, and, most recently, serve as an event venue. It is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

What has since become symbolic of France in the years since the 1889 Expo, the Eiffel Tower was initially considered to be “incomplete, confused and deformed”. The tower’s design won over judges in a contest that drew more than 700 entries, including plans for a colossal watering can and a 300-metre-high guillotine.

Competing in the Electricity building, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla tried to persuade millions of visitors of the merits of their respective Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC) electrification systems. By the end of the fair, Tesla emerged victorious, and AC became the American national standard.

Some of the first Olympic Games of the modern age took place at World Expos; the Paris Expo in 1900 and later, St. Louis’s Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 both hosted the games as part of their programing. Official events in 1900 included polo, croquet, and Basque Pelota, also known as Jai Alai.

Incubators were one of the greatest draws at the 1904 Expo in St. Louis. Attendees paid admission to view this scientific miracle, strolling through an exhibit where medical staff watched over prematurely born babies who thrived in the new devices.

The 1906 Expo in Milan quite literally created a buzz by bringing the novel espresso machine to the world’s attention. Thanks in part to this brewing innovation, coffee keeps millions of workers alert, and the global coffee market is worth nearly AED 374 billion ($102 billion).

In 1915, telecom company AT&T crowded visitors into an auditorium filled with telephone receivers to publicise the first transcontinental phone call that had just taken place. The receivers allowed attendees to hear people speaking in New York, an incredible 4,800 kilometres away from the Expo’s host city of San Francisco.

Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, the German Pavilion at Expo 1929 in Barcelona dramatically influenced architecture. Made of glass, steel, and four kinds of stone, the minimalist building — later known as the Barcelona Pavilion — was dismantled after Expo ended, then reconstructed again in the 1980s.

Whereas previous Expos had focused on products from fax machines to chewing gum, the 1933 Expo in Chicago began forecasting the future through pavilions that included the celebrated House of Tomorrow. The steel-framed home included then-luxuries such as air conditioning, a dishwasher, and a garage.

With the second world war on the horizon, the 1937 Expo’s most famous legacy is a meditation on war itself — Pablo Picasso’s painting, “Guernica”. Depicting the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica, its power to disturb remains, even after over 80 years

Television as we know it began with a telecast of US President Franklin D Roosevelt opening the New York Expo. In the RCA Pavilion, a transparent TV, with its working parts fully visible, was needed to convince wary audiences that the technology was no trick.

While the Atomium is the best-known legacy of the 1958 Expo, the event’s greatest impact was not the model of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times but the infrastructure transformation of Brussels, turning it into one of the most motorised European capitals.

The 1962 Expo’s signature building, the Space Needle, was inspired by UFOs and old record-playing turntables. The 184-metre-tall monolith influenced the look of the “The Jetsons” cartoon series, and popularised the futuristic Googie style of architecture, known for geometric shapes expressed in steel, glass, and neon.

The 1967 Expo left many legacies, including one you can actually live in! Habitat 67 was experimental, modular housing designed by Moshe Safdie. To create a model of the housing development’s 158 units, Safdie used Lego, buying up every piece of the toy he could find in Montreal.

Just a year after the Apollo 11 moon landing, telecom company NTT displayed the “Dream Telephone” of the future at the 1970 Expo. It was a prototype of a cordless phone terminal capable of making calls to any location in Japan. Fifty-two years later, 65 per cent of the world’s population owns a mobile device.

Held in Spokane, Washington, the 1974 Expo was the first ecologically-conscious fair, setting the tone for others to come. Organisers urged every exhibitor to focus on environmental themes, and General Motors did this by displaying the XP-883, a prototype of modern hybrid automobiles.

Twenty years before the movie “Waterworld,” the 1975 Expo imagined a future of floating cities. Its centrepiece was the Aquapolis, a 10,000-square-metre, semi-submerged metropolis that also tested one of the world’s first waste-water recycling processes

In 1982, with computers seemingly stuck with clunky keyboards and mice, the United States Pavilion at the Expo introduced audiences to the world's first touchscreen: Accutouch. Installed on 33 screens, the touch-sensitive panel allowed users to experience controlling a computer with nothing more than taps, jabs, and swipes.

The 1984 event was the first Expo to have an official mascot: Seymore D. Fair, a large, white-costumed pelican. Other unusual symbols since then have included Expo Ernie the robot, for Expo 86 in Vancouver, and Foody, a figure composed of fruits and vegetables, for Expo 2015 in Milan,

The 1998 Expo, held in Lisbon, celebrated the 500th anniversary of Vasco de Gama's discovery of a sea route to India. It also welcomed the future by spurring on the Polis programme, which focused on improving eco-friendliness and livability in 39 Portuguese cities.

For the 2000 Expo, held in Hannover, BMW built a fleet of hydrogen-powered 750hL automobiles, which provided daily shuttle services for guests. The cars may have heated up the road, but not the atmosphere, thanks to their pollution-free fuel.

Even with attractions such as the Grand Sumo Tournament wrestling competition, the biggest star of Expo 2005, held in the Aichi prefecture of Japan, was the Super Hi-Vision Theatre, where the public was introduced to Ultra High-Definition TV (HDTV) for the first time.

With a site of 523 hectares in size, Expo 2010 Shanghai was the largest ever. In nearly two centuries of Expo, it also had the highest attendance rate, with a whopping 73.5 million visitors pouring through its gates.

The 2015 Expo's layout was inspired by Roman cities, with a 1.5 kilometre-long east-west-oriented “decumanus,” which criss-crossed with a 350-metre-long “cardo.” Remnants of the ancient design can still be seen in Barcelona, Florence, and even Beirut, where the intersection of two lanes was often the site of food markets.