LESSONS FROM THE GREAT EXHIBITION 1851
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
What. An. Absolute. Belter. Of. A. Line.
It’s definitely in my top five lines, if not my top three.
The 12th century metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants is a nod to modern day developments, not because we have keener vision or greater height but because of our predecessors’ endeavours.
The problem with standing on the shoulders of giants is that a lot of people often forget what has come before and when you forget, or are unaware, you can overlook some really, really valuable lessons.
And this is so true of the exhibition industry.
It’s easy to dismiss the events and exhibitions of yesteryear as simplistic affairs in comparison to the challenges we tackle in today’s modern industry like fragmented media, complex technology, diminishing margins and the rampant competition.
The fact is they were far from simple and there are examples where we don’t currently stand on shoulders and we are not seeing as far as we could.
For that reason I am taking you back, way back…. 164 years back.
Let’s go to 1851 and The Great Exhibition which took place at Hyde Park, London.
It was a giant of an exhibition that showcased the science and technological brilliance of British industry to the world.
It was an exhibition which to this day casts a long shadow over our modern industry and here are a few 1851 facts to blow your mind:
- It ran for five and a half months
- There was no suitable venue so the original Crystal Palace was built within Hyde Park to accommodate it.
- It was attended by more than 6 million people – a third of the British population at the time
- It had 13,000 exhibitors from more than 28 countries
- It is seen as the birthplace of the telegraph, vulcanised rubber, public toilets, the fax machine, and bizarrely The America’s Cup
But here’s the rub….these facts don’t make it a giant. What I about to explain, does.
The Exhibition was led by Prince Albert who was a real innovator of his generation and a forward-thinker – evidence below.
Prince Albert had the foresight to make the exhibition go far beyond its five and half-month tenancy and managed to triple-lock its legacy within commercial British science and technology.
The Prince set up a body called “The Royal Commission 1851’ which was focused on future development of British technology in the face of European competition.
You know how we struggle to make our exhibitions go beyond the tenancy and talk a good game about communities and tech and engagement?
Well these guys nailed it years ago.
You see, they took the profits of the exhibition and invested them perpetually in two main areas.
Firstly, they purchased 96 acres in South Kensington and established the core of the Science, Art and History Museums that currently occupy the space and to this day the Commission remains the landlord.
That’s just not realistic for the modern organiser but the next investment could be.
Secondly, they set up an annual scholarship system to support graduates and young scientists develop their ideas for future innovation and creativity in British industry.
The £2million scholarship opens up again next month as it has done every year for more than a hundred and twenty years…
That’s right – a hundred and twenty years.
Let that sink in.
And how’s this for a legacy fact – thirteen Nobel laureates have received scholarships from The Commission…
Now that’s an giant exhibition shoulder to stand on…
I wonder whether modern day exhibition organisers could triple-lock their legacy through a 365-exhibitor project?
I think so.
You may not….but surely it’s worth a punt, right?
Hook us up 😉
Jim heads up Exhibitor Smarts, which is a specialist exhibitor agency working alongside organisers and suppliers to maximise exhibitor revenue.
If you want more information about the Exhibitor Smarts please visit our website at www.exhibitorsmarts.com
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Image thanks to Game of Thrones Wikia!