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The Worlds Fair and Exposition
Information and Reference Guide

1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition




  • 164 facts and trivia nuggets with photos. Plus 39 links to websites for more information.

  • The World's Fair and Exposition Information and Reference Guide is now on CD.
    11,216 facts and 1,362 web links covering 24 World's Fairs and Expositions.
    Further information can be found here.

  • To Convert Dollar Amounts to the Year 2003: divide the amount by .044.



The following categories are on CD
more Facts and Statistics (15)
more - The New
Crystal Palace (23)
High Resolution Images (10)
Ralph Nicholson
Wornum (10)
Exhibition Histories (21)
Joseph Paxton (7) Crystal Palace
Statistics (31)
Bonus: Timeline 1851 (25)





  • Dates: May 1 - October 15, 1851 (141 days).

  • Theme: Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.

  • Location: Hyde Park, London

  • Total Area: 10.5 hectares (25.94 acres)

  • Symbol: Crystal Palace (aka Glass Hive, Palace of Glass).

  • Crystal Palace: 7.6 hectares (18.78 acres) - 772,784 square feet - 33 million cubic feet.

  • Cost of the Crystal Palace: £150,000 (£7.5 million today).

  • Participating Nations: 32: Africa, Austria, Australia, Bavaria, Belgium, Canada, Ceylon, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Madeira, Malta, Persia, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunis, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, West Indies and the Zollverein.

  • Total Expenditures: £142,780 (Original Bid: £79,800).

  • Net Profit: £365,000 (some sources say £451,000).

  • Exhibit Value: £2 million       Koh-i-Noor Diamond: Priceless. 

  • Admission: Five shillings for the first three weeks. Then lowered to one shilling.

  • Attendance: 6,039,205. About one-fifth of the population of Great Britain at the time

  • Transportation: Cab, carriage, horse, train, steamer, omnibus.

  • Hours: 10AM - dusk.

  • Entrances: 15.

  • Exhibitors: 13,937. 

  • Exhibits: 100,000+.

  • Galleries: 217,100 square feet.

  • Ground Floor: 772,784 square feet.

  • Foreign Exhibit Space: 210,000 square feet.

  • Display Tables: 8 miles (13 km).

  • The purpose of the Exhibition was to combined industry and art and bring attention to Great Britain as a world industrial power.

  • UK Population 1851: 30,000,000+.

  • US Population 1851: 23,000,000+.


Facts and Trivia 



  • The idea for a British Exhibition goes back to the French Industrial Exposition of 1844.

  • Over 500 influential people from 65 towns and cities signed a petition in favor of holding the 1851 Exhibition.

  • Prince Albert had the plan for an Exhibition of All Nations. And the Society of Arts negotiated a building contractor with projected gate receipt money. 

  • The British Government setup a Royal Commission which meet at the Mansion House in January 1850. They cancelled the negotiated building contract, called for a competition and with £230,000 established the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851.

  • The Commissioners decided on an area bigger than anything the French had produced and it was to be treated as a "bonded warehouse" to avoid import duties.

  • 245 designs submitted (some histories say 233 submissions), 128 from London, 51 from Provincial towns and 38 from foreign countries (27 from France). All rejected.

  • The Commission then developed their own design and entertained bids. But price quotes were higher than they had anticipated.

  • Contractors Fox and Henderson offered an alternate design, albeit one that bore little resemblance to the Commissions design, for considerably less money. It was based upon Sir Joseph Paxton's repeating structure design.

  • Paxton drew his original design on blotting paper and had a complete set of plans drawn in nine days. On July 6, 1850, the Illustrated London News published an engraving of it. The commission added a domed roof to the plan to accommodate larger trees in the park. And the Crystal Palace was born. 

  • Stability and safety concerns were raised by the Astronomer Royal, Professor Airey and Richard Turner. The questions involved not the weight of the building but resonance from crowds moving through the structure. A test construction was organized. The experiment passed and fears diminished

  • October 31, 1850 - The last day for applications. Total requests for space exceeded 417,000 square feet. Almost double the amount originally appropriated.

  • Site originally proposed was a 26 acre rectangular piece of land in Hyde Park. 500 ft wide by 2300 ft long and the ground had a fall from 1 inch to 21 feet from east to west. 

  • Site was picked for: ease of access, drainage, access to gas and water, convenient location and beauty of the neighborhood. 

  • The Exhibition made 100,000 pounds before it opened: 64,344 pounds from public subscriptions; 40,000 pounds from season tickets; 3,200 pounds from catalogue rights, and 5,500 pounds from Schweppes for the refreshment rights. 

  • The building was conceived in June 1850, the first iron column was fixed into place on September 26th, and the completed structure finished in January 1851

  • Douglas Jerrold, editor of Punch magazine, is credited with introducing the building as 
    "The Crystal Palace"
    . Which was a derogatory remark.

  • New methods of construction, prefabricated components and availability of cast-iron and glass made the Crystal Palace a reality. And allowed the structure to be easily dismantled and re-erected later.



  • The structure was: 1,848 feet (563 meters) long and 408 feet (124 meters) wide with a central transept 72 feet (22 meters) wide and 108 feet (32.9 meters) long. And covered 772,784 square feet

  • It consisted of: 2300 cast-iron girders; 358 wrought-iron roof support trusses; 202 miles (325 kilometers) of sash bars; 900,000 feet of glass weighing more than 406 tons; 3230 hollow cast-iron columns which supported the structure and served as a means to carry off rainwater from the 34 miles (54.7 kilometers) of guttering, and 600,000 feet of wooden planking to walk on

  • The structure covered 32,709,600 cubic feet (934,560 cubic meters) of space. Galleries added another two hectares of floor space

  • The transept was designed to enclose a grove of tall elms that local towns people would not allow to be cut down

  • The Palace was composed almost entirely of iron and glass with wood used only in the fittings and floorboards

  • The Palace was opened on May 1, 1851 by Queen Victoria. Organs played, choirs chanted and the Archbishop of Canterbury provided the prayer

  • Opening day drew 300,000 visitors

  • Only Season ticket holders were admitted on Opening Day. 

  • On April 29th, 40,000£ worth of season tickets were sold.

  • On it's best day, October 7, 1951 - 109,915 people visited

  • The Crystal Palace contained such marvels as: the Crystal Fountain made from four tons of crystal glass and standing approximately eight meters high, a collection of vulgar pianos, a massive sideboard carved from a single oak, a giant 31.5-ton steam locomotive, a steam hammer, agricultural implements, a 24.4 ton block of coal, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and a statue of a naked Greek girl slave. 

  • Joseph Paxton was a horticulturist who built glass houses for 20 years. His idea for the Palace was based on a conservatory that he had built for the 6th Duke of Devonshire. He also designed large greenhouses for the Duke at Chatsworth.

  • A cast-iron dome was originally designed by the engineer Brunel, but was ridiculed and considered hideous. Ironically, Brunel would later design and build the two 46 foot diameter, 284 foot tall brick water towers in Sydenham Hill Park after Paxton's design had failed.

  • The Center Transept housed the world's largest organ and a circus. And played host to many concerts. The organ, which is supplied with air by hydraulic machinery, boasts
    4384 pipes, and cost £6,000.

  • The fountains used 11,788 jets and 120,000 gallons of water when in full operation

  • The Exhibition not only included reproductions of hundreds of famous statues but also contained life-size reproductions of prehistoric dinosaurs. The first ever made.

  • At this time, Uncle Sam was the symbol of America



  • Thonet's Bentwood chairs made little impression on visitors. Their simplicity, style and price revolutionized mass produced seating in the later part of the 19th century.

  • Jennens and Bettridge of London and Birmingham displayed two paper-mâché pieces of furniture. A chair with button upholstery and a Victoria Regia Cot which resembled a large shell bathtub. 

  • M'Cullum & Hodgson of Birmingham also made paper-mâché furniture. A ladies cabinet, jewel box, work table and the "Day Dreamer" chair

  • Furniture styles included: Rococo, Edwardian, Gothic Revival and Victorian

  • Vermont and Massachusetts was represented

  • A day’s wages for a craftsman was five shillings

  • Train excursions from York to London would run from 5 to 15 shillings for a round trip

  • "Crystal Palace" was meant as a derogatory description

  • The building was essentially a giant greenhouse trimmed in ribbon and opaque fabric.

  • The Queen, along with her children, visited every exhibitors booth. 

  • The US Exhibit was in the east side below and above the transept. 

  • The British Colonies, East Indies and United Kingdom were on the west side and occupied 30 separate sections

  • Machinery - North side

  • Raw Material and Produce - South side

  • Manufacturing and Fine Arts - Center

  • France had 65,000 sq ft. More than the total amount of area encompassing the 1844 and 1849 French Exhibitions

  • The north side of the palace had a side projection 48 ft wide by 936 ft long. And it had a
    72 foot by 48 foot vestibule

  • The center transept was 72 feet wide by 400 feet long by 108 feet high

  • The semi-cylindrical roof has an elevation of 68 feet and a diameter of 72 feet. On the sides of the roof transept were 24 feet wide pathways. 

  • The Grand Avenue was 72 feet wide by 64 feet high and 1848 long (length of the building)

  • First set of aisles were on both sides along the Grand Avenue. Aisles were 24 feet wide by
    24 feet high and ran the length of the building and around the transept (3 stories)

  • Second set of aisles - 48 feet wide and 48 feet high with galleries. Bridges spanned the galleries which divided them into courts (2 stories)

  • Third set of aisles - 24 ft wide and one story tall with no galleries

  • Ten double staircases 8 feet wide gave access to the galleries

  • The Great Train Robbery took place in London, 1855. The movie was based on a novel by Michael Crichton, and in it a meeting takes place at the Crystal Palace

  • Hawks were kept inside the Palace to control the sparrow population

  • A journey from England to America lasted eight weeks

  • The Jacquard loom won a medal at the 1801 Paris Exhibition. 

  • In the beginning, when admissions were 5 pence, the rich and elite visited the Exhibition. After the price dropped to one pence, the laymen began to visit

  • An artificial lake with fountains was built in the park. On the beaches of the lake stood models of the prehistoric monsters who had been recently discovered. 

  • And for the first time, public flush toilets. 

  • Charles Harrods grocery store earns enough money to construct a department store

  • Almost the same number of people who visited the Exhibition in 1851, visited the Millennium Dome in 2001

  • The Times newspaper reported that it would take over 200 hours to visit every exhibit



  • The US exhibit included the: McCormack Reaper, Colt Revolver, a 16,400 lb hunk of zinc, unpickable locks, a model of Niagara Falls and a piano that could be played by 4 people at the same time. 

  • The trellised wood slat flooring allowed dirt to be swept between the boards. It also provided drainage when washed with water

  • The Engine House supplied steam for the Machinery Exhibits and water for the building and fountains. 5 boilers provided 150 horsepower. A 6 inch main ran around the building with firecocks placed at 24 foot intervals. 16 four inch branch pipes supplied water from tanks that held 357,675 gallons of water. 

  • Charles Dickens even commented on the Crystal Palace

  • A section called "Substances Used For Food" contained chocolate, coffee, dates, honey, preserved fruits and spices. 

  • Most of the exhibits on display were mainly for ornamental and decorative purposes

  • Reflected light from the ceiling was so great at times, that canvas barriers were stretched across the ridges to provide shading.

  • The building was also sprayed with water for cooling and included mechanically adjustable louver shutters for air circulation

  • The Egyptian Court featured the hieroglyphic "Rosetta Stone", the rock-tomb from Beni Hassan and sculptured pillars from the temple at Phile



  • The centerpiece in the Crystal Palace was Osler's Crystal Fountain. It was 27 feet high and made from 4 tons of glass. It was relocated to Sydenham Hill Park in 1854.

  • Red banners with white borders and lettering were hung to differentiate countries and classes of exhibits. Flags of all the countries were also surmounted on the long flat lines of the roof

  • Items on display included: the Jacquard loom, an envelope machine that could handle 60 pieces a minute, Lucifer matches, tools, steam engines, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays, powdered graphite in the form of yellow pencils, McCormack Reaper, Bowie knives, Swiss watches, a stuffed elephant, 40 foot scale model of the London docks with 1600 miniature ships, a knife with 1851 blades, prototype submarine, farm equipment, electric clocks, washing machine, false teeth, artificial limbs, chewing tobacco, centrifugal pump, Jacquard lace machine, steam-press, camerae-obscurae, Caloric Engine, Colt's Pistols, Prouty and Mears' Plows, American Bridges, household furniture made of coal, rhubarb champagne, artificial arms and legs, two chairs designed by Mr. Carl Leistler, centrifugal impellers (pumps). 

  • The Jacquard loom used a punched card process to control the design. This loom was an improvement from Jacques de Vaucanson's loom of 1745. And Charles Babbage used a similar system in 1830 to control his Analytical Engine. The Pattern Loom.

  • Due to the objections from local residents about holding the Exhibition in Hyde Park, the building was temporary and removed after the Exhibition

  • The Koh-i-Noor diamond (aka Mountain of Light) is now part of the British crown jewels

  • So much information has been accumulated that it fills a three volume catalogue housed in the National Library of Australia

  • Profits from the Exhibition were used to provide London with Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

  • So popular was the Exhibition's Crystal Palace that it spawned two imitations. At the United States first major Exposition, the New York Crystal Palace in 1862. And Australia's first major Exposition, the Garden Palace in Sydney, Australia in 1879


The New Crystal Palace - Sydenham Hill Park


  • Sir Joseph Paxton wanted to turn the Crystal Palace into a "'Winter Park and Garden under Glass". And along with 8 other directors, formed The Crystal Palace Company under a Royal Charter. They raised over £500,000 (£25 million today) to buy the building and land to re-erect it on a new site.

  • The building was purchased for £70,000 (£3.5 million today) from Fox & Henderson.

  • The new site consisted of 389 acres of mansion and land called Penge Place. The location in Sydenham Hill was owned by Leo Schuster, a friend of Paxton.

  • George Wythes of Reigate, Surrey bought another 130 acres of land for houses.

  • The Crystal Palace Company owns and uses 200 acres.

  • The new Crystal Palace was also known as the "Palace of the People".

  • When the building was torn down and moved to Sydenham, broken glass was re-melted and  provided some of the replacements.

  • Reconstruction began on August, 5 1852.

  • Soon afterward, the Brighton Railway Company purchased 17 acres and constructed the Crystal Palace (Low Level) Railway Station.

  • Connecting the Railway Station to the Crystal Palace was a 720 foot glass walkway called the Crystal Colonnade.

  • The project provided jobs for over 7,000 people.

  • In August 1853, 12 construction workers died when tons of scaffolding supporting the center transept collapsed.

  • On June 10th, 1854, The New Crystal Palace Park was opened by Queen Victoria.

  • The Original opening day was May 1, 1854 but construction and finance problems, and the covering of the private parts on the nude male statues delayed the opening to June 10th.

  • The new Crystal Palace was considerably larger than the original in Hyde Park. The building was 2 stories taller (5 stories total) and north and south transepts were added. 

  • Total  floor area was 50% larger than the original.

  • Area: 603,072 feet

  • Size: 1608 feet by 384 feet wide.

  • Height of the Nave: 110 feet, 3 inches.

  • Central Transept: 194 feet long by 120 feet wide.

  • North and South Transepts: 150 feet high by 72 feet wide.

  • Brunel stepped in to design and build the two 46 foot diameter, 284 foot tall brick water towers after Paxton's design had failed.

  • The building was closed on Sundays, except for shareholders.

  • For the first 30 years, attendance averaged 2,000,000 people a year.

  • A 4,000-piece Grand Orchestra surrounded the 4,500 pipe Great Organ in the central transept.

  • The "Company" used up the initial £500,000 before the building was half finished.

  • The final bill totaled nearly £1,300,000 (£50.5 million today). In its 82 year life, the new Crystal Palace never recovered from this debt.

  • In 1911, Sydenham Hill Park and the Crystal Palace played host to The Festival of Empire, which is considered the precursor of the Commonwealth Games.

  • In 1911, the building was considered bankrupt and put up for auction on November 28th. But on November 9th, the balance of £210,000 was paid and it became property of England.

  • During World War I, the building was used as the Royal Naval Shore Station HMS 
    Victory VI. The building was known as the HMS Crystal Palace when it was occupied by 125,000 men during World War I.

  • Around 7:30 PM on the night of November 30, 1936, a fire broke out in the center transept. 438 firemen, 88 fire engines and 749 police officers answered the fire call.

  • The cause of the fire has never been resolved. Most likely scenario ... an accident.

  • The south tower was dismantled during the winter of 1940-41.

  • In 1941, January, The Victorian Bandstand was destroyed during a Nazi air raid.

  • The north tower was used during World War II for war work by the British government and was used for testing dummy bombs before it was destruction on April 16, 1941. Parts of the Park were used by various government agencies for the duration of the war.

  • On October 24, 1950, fire destroyed the last reminders of the Crystal Palace - the remainder of the south wing and the School of Art.

  • In 1951, The Crystal Palace Trust was dissolved and ownership transferred to the Greater London Council.

  • Of the East and West Pavilions, only the East remains (and remains is what's there) and was "cleaned up" along with the Concert Stand and the Arboretum for an appearance in the 1969 movie "Women in Love".

  • In 1990, the Crystal Palace Museum opened on Anerley Hill. It is staffed by volunteers from the Crystal Palace Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Park.

  • In 1994,  Charles Aslin's Concert Bandstand is destroyed by fire.

  • Among the Royal visitors during it's 82 year life: Napoleon III, Prince Albert, the King and Queen of Greece, Queen Victoria, the Khedive of Egypt, the Shah of Persia, the Sultan of Turkey, II, the Sultan of Zanzibar, Tsar Alexander and the Kaiser.

  • Some remainders of the Crystal Palace can still be seen in Sydenham Park, including statuary and the reproduction dinosaurs.

  • Debate continues as to the future uses of the Park.




  • Professor Richard Owen was credited with inventing the word ‘dinosaur’.

  • Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was the first person to ever construct full-size replicas of dinosaurs.

  • They were in Hyde Park on two artificial islands plus a smaller third island.

  • Prehistoric Animals included: Hylaeosaur, Ichtyosaurs, Iguanodons, Labyrinthodons, Megalosaurs, Megatheres, Mosasaur, Plesiosaurs, Pterodactyl and Teleosaurs.

  • Many of the models were counterfactual but they introduced dinosaurs to peoples imagination.

  • Hawkins was said to have had a dinner party for 22 people inside an Iguanodon.

  • One report mentions that 1:12 scale models of some of the dinosaurs were sold on the grounds. The Pterodactyl, an Iguanodon, a Megalosaur, two Plesiosaurs, an Ichthyosaur, and a Labyrinthodont. 

  • Waterhouse Hawkins built 33 prehistoric dinosaurs in Sydenham Hill Park in 1854.

  • Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Hawkins and the Crystal Palace, Paper Dinosaurs, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, ZoomDinosaurs.

  • After the exhibition, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins left for New York in order to build a museum. Two years later, the models and museum were destroy by followers of William "Boss" Tweed. The broken pieces of his models are buried in New York’s Central Park. He later returned to England and never visited America again.





Sources, Resources 


  • "Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue"
     by Royal Commission.  3 volumes, 500 pages each

  • "History of the Crystal Palace"
     by Tallis. 3 volumes

  • "The Crystal Palace and it's Contents". October, 1851.
     4 volumes,  last 2 are double volumes. 500+ Illustrations

  • "Illustrated Catalogue of the Industry of All Nations"
     Special Edition by the Art-Journal. 328 pages

  • "The Art-Journal Catalog"
     by George Virtue. Catalog issued to draw support

  • "The Crystal Palace Exhibition, Illustrated Catalog, London (1851)"
    reprint of "The Art-Journal Catalog" by George Virtue. 1970 Dover Edition.

  • "Musical Instruments in the 1851 Exhibition" 
    by Peter Mactaggart  (Editor) - Mac & Me Paperback.

  • "The Exposition of 1851"
    by Charles Babbage.

  • "The Great Exhibition"
    by John R. Davis - Sutton Publishing - Hardcover.

  • "The Great Exhibition of 1851"
    by Jeffrey Auerbach  - Yale University Press - Hardcover - 1999.



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