1867 Paris Universal Exposition (intro)

Today’s post begins a short series which will provide my readers a view of the 1867 Expo and what part my friend U-ta-wa-un might have played in it. I will break the story down into several posts covering

  • what was the Paris Expo of 1867 like
  • U.S. locations within the expo and the neighbors
  • what the U.S. Commissioner in Paris requested
  • what the New York Times claimed was being provided
  • what I could learn about the actual American Indians that appeared in Paris

I will follow up with an additional post to summarize how this relates to my Kanistanaux research project and why I took the time to make this research side-trip.
I will try to make one post a week, but since it is summer and I am spending a lot of time at camp (no power!), I am not going to promise anything.

What was the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867?

Following the London Expo of 1862, Emperor Napoleon III of France announced a world exposition would be held in Paris in 1867. The site used was the Champ de Mars military parade grounds lying on the bank of the River Seine. When the exhibition buildings and gardens were completed, the Expo covered 119 acres plus a 53 acre island. Each country participating sent a Commissioner to Paris to represent them in the planning and execution of their country’s exhibits.
The theme was “The History of Labor”. The idea was to present the technical wonders of the Industrialized World in a way that entertained, enlightened, and inspired it’s visitors. Ten groups with 95 classes were established for the purpose of awarding some 19,000 plus exhibit prizes and awards.
The Expo opened April 1 and closed November 3 of 1867. Forty-one countries participated with more than 50,000 exhibits, 703 from the U.S., with France providing over 15,000. It was visited by more than 9 million people including the exhibitors and employees.
It was the first world expo to include food pavilions, the first to establish categories for all exhibits, and the first to allow separate pavilions for each participating country. It may have been the first to issue photo ID passes to exhibitors and workers. The first public aquarium was part of the exposition. It was also the first expo in which Japan participated.
The United Sates had just ended the Civil war and was still suffering from the financial repercussions of that war. Congress had much more important things to be concerned with. Eventually Congress did fund U.S. participation in the Paris Expo, but by all accounts the funding was seriously insufficient to cover the true costs. Some things never change.
The U.S. appointed Nelson Beckwith (1807-1889), a New York businessman and the U.S. Consul General in Paris, as Commissioner General to handle the preparations in Pars for the U.S. exhibits. In New York, J.C. Derby was appointed general agent and placed in charge of co-coordinating just about everything else. With the exception of a few engineers, the majority of folks involved on both sides of the Atlantic were not paid for their services – it must have been purely a labor of love. Evidence suggests all exhibitors had to provide their own transportation and lodging. Individuals and businesses contributing exhibit materials had to provide their own means of transportation to New York. Congress agreed to pay for transportation of materials from New York to Paris, but not customs fees, tariffs, taxes, etc.. It must have been a paperwork nightmare for someone. Due to the financial constraints, organizers were forced to use the older and slower sailing ships instead of the faster steamers. Many exhibits and exhibitors did not arrive until after opening day. Not that is was too much noticed, since the Expo itself was still under construction on opening day. Some things never change.
The United States exhibits were located in the section of the main building nearest the Seine River. The exhibits were spread radially from the center of the Expo Palace outward to the perimeter of the Expo grounds. I have a nice map of the entire expo and a close up of the U.S. section ready for my next post. The U.S. was situated across “Rue d’Afrique” from all the exotic Nations of the time such as China & Japan. The South American countries occupied the area next to U.S. on the other side. Beyond South American was Great Britain & her colonies. The U.S. occupied approximately 94,000 square feet and cataloged just over 700 items. At the opening of the Expo, only 536 of those items were in place in time to be judged. Some things never change.
The University of Chicago Library has two wonderful birds-eye views of the entire Expo that allows you to zoom in a check out the details. There are many other birds-eye views available with just a simple search. The best (imo) image is titled (in French)
Vue générale de l’exposition universelle et des constructions élevées dans le parc [electronic resource] : extrait du Monde illustré / A. Deroy ; E. Roevens.
The second Chicago Library image is found at this link www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/maps/paris/G5834-P3A3-1867-E9.html.
I encourage my readers to take a minute to view these wonderful depictions of the Expo.
I found this very nice slide show of scenes from the Expo by Sylvain Ageorges on YouTube.com. Some readers might enjoy Vol. 1 & 2 of the “Illustrated Universal Exposition of 1867” and “Grand album de l’Exposition Universelle 1867” (see bibliography below). The illustrations in these three books are wonderful and if you read French you will have an added bonus of being able to understand the text.
Unfortunately, I was not been able to locate a American Indian village in any images. Not even a single wigwam. There is what looks like a really huge Teepee in some illustrations. After considerable research, I determined it was located in the Russian section. It does not appear in all the birds-eye views I looked at. I think some of the birds-eye images were created before the Expo for the purpose of building public interest, while others were created after the Expo was opened and more accurately depict the actual scene. In any event, the artists of the period did not appear to depict a American Indian village nor single wigwam in any of the hundreds of illustrations they created and I have found.
Looking for the village in these images has been like playing “Where’s Waldo” when you don’t know what Waldo looks like and you have more than one picture to look in ;-)  I will probably go through the illustrations again if I get a better idea of what I am looking for and where it should be. It just may be there hiding in the background details of another scene.
While on the subject of what the Expo looked like, something these old images don’t show us is the ring of businesses that grew up around the perimeter of the Expo grounds. Private enterprise was alive and well in Paris in 1867. Foreign vendors offered products and services from all over the world along side local French vendors. Writers of the time suggest all flavor of alcoholic beverages, drugs from the orient, and sex from every corner of the world were the featured products and services of this section. Some things never change.
Another unexpected attraction of the Expo was the use of pretty waitresses from the various homelands to attract customers to the different food establishments. This practice seems to have grown as the countries tried to one up each other over the course of the Expo for being the country with the finest young women. How delightful it must have been for the visiting men. No mention of any equivalent scenery for the ladies to enjoy, but then, I found nothing written by or for women, so it’s not surprising. Some things never change.
I can’t even imagine how stimulating the whole Expo scene must have been for European and American folks of the time period. The impact on people from the less developed countries must have been one of complete over stimulation of all their senses upon arrival. I wonder how their experience as members of this artificial world for seven months might have altered their lives? Upon returning to their homeland, they were certainly no longer naïve or innocent after such an adventure. Did they help their communities move into the future or were they outcasts no longer fitting in?
Google Books and Archive.org provided me with a number of good period resources for learning about this Expo. The Hathi Trust Digital Library also has a nice selection of period writing. I  am listing those I found most useful in the following bibliography.

Bibliography for the Series

Do you have any information to add or questions?
Please leave a comment.
Canyon Wolf 
Copyright ©2012 Ne-Do-Ba – All Rights Reserved
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Categories: 1867 Paris Universal Exposition, Culture, Entertainments, Miscellaneous, Resources-Internet | Tags: ,

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