Decorative Arts at The World's Fairs - Inventing the modern world, 1851-1939.

  • Technology

    Innovative manufacturing processes and materials were essential to the world’s fairs. New materials such as plastic, Plexiglas, synthetic rubber and polyester were all introduced in the early 1900s. Steam power, the gas-driven motor and electricity transformed industry. New materials and technology influenced everyday life, changing homes and creating a wider range of products on the market.
    Moving sidewalk, Pont des Invalides. Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1900. Courtesy of Brown University Library.
  • Centripetal Spring Chair

    As materials, mass-production and ideas of comfort change over time, so do the styles of furniture. The Centripetal Spring Chair combines a cast iron spring, swivel seat and fabric upholstery to allow for greater mobility and comfort.
    Model shown at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, London, 1851
    Thomas E. Warren, designer, American, act. 1849–1852. American Chair Company, manufacturer, United States (Troy, NY), 1829–1858. Centripetal Spring Chair, ca. 1850. Painted and gilded iron, steel, and wood with replacement upholstery. 31 1/2 x 23 3/4 x 22 5/8 in. (80 x 60.3 x 57.5 cm). Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Adelaide Cherbonnier, 147:1965.
  • Bracelet

    Although gemstones and precious materials were popular in 19th-century jewelry, manufacturers saw commercial opportunities in rare metals such as aluminum. Discovered in the mid 19th-century, aluminum was acclaimed for its beauty, light weight, malleability and resistance to corrosion.
    Similar designs shown at the London International Exhibition of 1862
    France. Bracelet, ca. 1858. Aluminum and gold. 1 1/4 x 2 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. (3.2 x 6.5 x 5.7 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Martha Mack Lewis Fund, 1998.5.
  • Pair of Vases

    In the 1860s, chromolithography revolutionized the ceramics industry. This process, where lithographic prints were imbued with glaze, allowed patterns to look like they were hand-painted, when they were actually industrially produced. This method is still used today.
    Shown at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1867
    J. Klotz, France (Paris), act. ca. 1867. Pair of Vases, 1867. Glazed porcelain with chromolithography and gilding. Each: 19 1/2 x 8 1/8 in. (49.5 x 20.8 cm). Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Walter R. Bollinger Fund, 97.107.1–2.
  • Centerpiece and Bowls

    Lobmeyr’s centerpiece and bowls display some of the most unusual technical accomplishments in glass. The inclusion of rare earths, such as uranium, in the glass makes the objects change color under different types of light.
    Shown at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris, 1925
    Marianne Rath, designer, Austrian, 1904–1985. J. & L. Lobmeyr, retailer, Austria (Vienna), 1823–present. Karlsbader Kristallglasfabriken A.G., manufacturer, Czech Republic (Karlovy Vary), under name 1922–1941. Centerpiece and Bowls, ca. 1925. Glass. Overall: 6 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 12 1/4 in (15.9 x 41.9 x 31.1 cm). J. & L. Lobmeyr, Vienna.
  • Radio Broadcasting Panel

    In Westinghouse’s display at the 1933 Chicago fair, this panel used innovative materials to promote the company’s products of mass communication. It was made of Micarta—a new laminate composed of canvas, paper and fiberglass—with designs in aluminum and steel.
    Shown at A Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933
    Westinghouse Manufacturing and Electric Company, United States (Pittsburgh, PA), 1886–present. Radio Broadcasting Panel, 1933. Micarta with aluminum, steel and wood. 49 1/2 x 97 1/2 x 1 1/4 in. (125.7 x 247.7 x 3.2 cm). The Wolfsonian-Flordia International University, Miami Beach, Flordia, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1989.190a-c.