2.21 Exploration: The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Industrial Revolution


The Industrious Prince

Winterhalter, Franz Xaver. "Family of Queen Victoria." 1846. Royal Collection.
Winterhalter, Franz Xaver. “Family of Queen Victoria.” 1846. Royal Collection. Wikimedia. December 27, 2015.

In 1840, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom wed her chosen prince consort (and first cousin), Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He never ascended to the throne himself as she remained firmly in control. By all accounts, this was a love match and, after Prince Albert died suddenly in 1861, Queen Victoria mourned him for the remainder of her life. While he was alive though, he found plenty of useful things to do.

As the Queen’s consort, Prince Albert held no royal power or duties, so he devoted himself to running the royal estates and getting behind public causes such as the abolition of slavery worldwide and educational reform. One of his great projects involved bringing the Great Exhibition of 1851 to London. This exhibition was a celebration of industrialism and technology from around the world, but, most importantly as a showcase for the industrial power of Great Britain. Explore the Great Exhibition of 1851 – the celebration of manufacturing in the Industrial Age – at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s excellent site The Great Exhibition.

The exhibition occurred at the height of the Industrial Age; as such, everyone was very cognizant of what a marvel man had achieved. Examine the images preserved by the British Library. What surprises you? What does this tell you about the might of Great Britain at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign?


Victoria and Albert Museum. “The Great Exhibition.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 30, 2020.

Picard, Liza. “The Great Exhibition.” British Library. October 14, 2009. Accessed March 30, 2020.

The Crystal Palace

McNeven, J. "Interior of the Crystal Palace." 1851.
McNeven, J. “Interior of the Crystal Palace.” 1851. Wikimedia. March 13, 2016.

Once the exhibition had been planned and a date set, the work of designing the building that would house this vast endeavor was at-hand. The committee members tasked with the job solicited building plans for months, but they couldn’t find one that everyone agreed upon. Ultimately, they ran out of time and, instead of a brick and mortar building, they were forced to rely upon the imagination of a gardener.

“Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of 1851.” Early Victorian London: 1837-1870. 1976. Films on Demand. 5:09.

If you get a message that the video cannot be authenticated, use this link: https://ccco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://fod-infobase-com.ccco.idm.oclc.org/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=151823&xtid=2697&loid=60618.

Relocation and Doom

"The Crystal Palace Post the Fire: Destroyed." November 1936.
“The Crystal Palace Post the Fire: Destroyed.” November 1936. Wikimedia. July 14, 2013.

Once the exhibition closed, the plan was to remove the palace from Hyde Park in London, but first they had to find a new site. The new site eventually selected would be in South East London. It took several years for the palace to be moved as the newly selected location had to be prepared for a building of this magnitude. The palace in its new location opened to the public in 1854. Read the story and documents of the Relocation of the Crystal Palace at the Crystal Palace Foundation’s website.

In 1936, tragedy happened: After 80 years in this location a fire burned the Crystal Palace to the ground and this unique, celebration of the Industrial Age was no more. Review the primary documents, such as the eyewitness description of the 1936 Fire at Rhode Island College’s website, and then watch WPA video (below) of actual fire footage in 1936:

This Day In History: November 30, 1936 – Crystal Palace Burns Down. 1936. Films on Demand. 1:34.

If you get a message that the video cannot be authenticated, use the link below: https://ccco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://fod-infobase-com.ccco.idm.oclc.org/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=151823&xtid=68785.


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PPSC HIS 1320: Western Civilization: 1650-Present by Wayne Artis, Sarah Clay, and Kim Fujikawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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