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A Magnificent failure: The 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna

Eingangstor_Weltausstellung_1873
The main entrance to the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna. (Photo by Michael Frankenstein via Wikipedia.de at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weltausstellung_1873)

The 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna was widely considered a colossal failure — it lost the equivalent of 160 million euro because of a devastating combination of the world’s first truly international financial crisis and Vienna’s last cholera epidemic. In many ways, this is all you need to know to understand the crucial time in history at which the World Exhibition was held: At the beginning of a new era of science and public health, as well rapid communication that enabled rampant speculation and its inevitable consequences.

Schoolhouse2
Educational exhibits were part of the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition. This was an example of an American rural schoolhouse. (via the LOC http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004676913/)
Schoolhouse
The interior of the schoolhouse. (Also via LOC at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004676913/)

A Wien Museum exhibition recently elucidated this period, and the role of the World Exhibition in it, with a fascinating collection of photographs and artifacts. That fast-changing world was trading old scourges for modern ones, and the World Exhibition sat at the fulcrum of that transition. Despite the dark circumstances surrounding the event, it optimistically promoted the world's progress in industry, art, and agriculture, and highlighted foreign lands that were freshly accessible because of new transit options. Built from scratch in Vienna’s enormous city park, it was five times larger than the previous exhibition in Paris, making room for 53,000 exhibitors from 35 countries in 194 pavilions. Almost none of it is left today.

Montage_Plan_Weltausstellung_1873
The plan of the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna from Jutta Pemsel: Die Wiener Weltausstellung von 1873, Verlag Böhlau, 1989 via Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montage_Plan_Weltausstellung_1873.jpg

Although the World Exposition itself was a financial disaster, it managed to welcome some 7 million visitors, and the exhibitors themselves left happy: They made money, and the exposure benefited them for years to come. The event also helped inaugurate the era of mass tourism in Vienna some 20 years later than in London and Paris. Today, it’s still possible to wander the streets downtown and see what the World Exhibition’s visitors saw — except then, the buildings were brand new symbols of Vienna’s aspirations, not relics of a time long past.

Machinehall
The machinery hall at the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition via http://www.ndl.go.jp/site_nippon/viennae/data/10028.html