World Facts

The Largest World Expositions of All Time

A world exposition is a large scale exposition designed to showcase achievement and information about countries around the world

An exposition, also known as a world fair, is a platform for nations to share achievements with one another. In an early effort of globalization, expositions would feature pavilions from countries all over the world that included information about their citizens and culture. Also popular at historical expositions was the presentation of new inventions from all corners of the world. However, expositions were also sometimes methods for spreading propaganda, as countries were allowed close control over their identity, where money and politics often played a role. Although many people believe that expositions have fallen out of style with the invention of the internet, Shanghai most recently hosted a very successful exposition in 2010.

4. New York World Fair - New York, 1939

Flushing Meadows Park, where the 1939 World Fair was held.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair was the largest exposition in US history with visitors exceeding 44 million. The exposition was the first to have a futuristic theme and ran under the motto of “The World of Tomorrow.” The fair was held at Corona Park in Queens, New York and occupied an area of 1,202 acres which is the second largest in US history after the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The 1939 New York World’s Fair was planned during the Great Depression and was aimed at relieving the city from economic depression by attracting foreign investment. The exposition was opened on April 30, 1939 coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the presidential inauguration of George Washington. Its opening saw an attendance of 206,000 spectators. Major inventions to emerge at the New York World Fair included nylon fabric, the View-Master, a streamlined pencil sharper, and a futuristic car city envisioned by General Motors.

3. Exposition Universelle - Paris, 1900

The Grand Palais des Champs-Elysees was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.

The 20th century had a memorable start in France, when the nation’s capital hosted the 1900 world fair known as the Exposition Universelle. With visitors exceeding 48 million, the Exposition Universelle is the largest exposition ever to be held in Europe and third largest of the 20th century overall. The Exposition Universelle was one of the earliest expositions to feature multiple countries, with France inviting various countries to showcase their technological advancements and cultural heritage. The Exposition was officially opened on April 14, 1900 to a relatively low public turnout that was attributed to high ticket prices. Exposition Universelle was the birthplace of many inventions that we enjoy today, including escalators, and talking films (early movies). However, it turned out to be expensive endeavour to organize and the cost per visitor ended being almost 600 francs more than each price of admission. The Expo ultimately lost about 82,000 francs after 6 months in operation. The Exposition Universelle is notable for hosting the first Olympic Games to ever exist outside of Greece, although they were not considered a success. The Exposition Universelle also had a sinister side - it included human zoos that were designed to promote the French colonizing of Africa as a positive and necessary endeavour. This was attempted by showcasing African people engaging in "authentic activities", designed to depict them as inferior to French visitors as a means of garnering support for colonization.

2. Expo '70 - Osaka, Japan

A time capsule from Expo​ ’70 in Osaka.

Expo ’70 was the biggest exposition of the 20th century and the second largest in history. The exposition was held in Osaka, Japan with the theme “Progress and Harmony for Mankind.” Expo ’70 had a record attendance of over 64 million visitors, a 40-year record that would not be surpassed until Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The city of Osaka received the highest tally of votes from the Bureau of International Expositions in 1965 and was granted permission to host the 1970 event. The exposition was opened on March 15, 1970 and ran for six months until its closing ceremony on September 13,1970. Expo ’70 was held in an area covering 820 acres and had 77 countries participating as well as four international organizations. Notable exhibitions included a large piece of moon rock that was brought back from the Apollo 12 mission, and a theatre that showed the world's first IMAX movie. After the closure of the event, a few of the pavilions remained intact, and the site is now known as the Expo Commemoration Park. The site hosts a time capsule which is to be opened after 5,000 years in the year 6970.

1. Expo 2010 - Shanghai, China

Exterior of the Expo Axis at the EXPO 2010 Shanghai, China.

Expo 2010 was an international exposition held in Shanghai, China from May 1, 2010 to October 31, 2010. Expo 2010 was the most-attended exposition in history with an attendance of more than 73 million people. It also had the highest international participation of any exposition in the world with 246 countries participating in an area covering 1,300 acres. Furthermore, the exhibition set a world record in single-day attendance on October 16, 2010 when over 1 million people visited the exposition. The theme chosen for the exposition was “Better City - Better Life.” The city of Shanghai won the bid to host the 2010 exposition during the Meeting of the Bureau of International Expositions in December 3, 2010 after receiving the highest number of votes. The government spent $2.7 billion to host the event with the majority of the funds going to the establishment and development of the 5.28-square kilometer site. The opening ceremony was held on April 30, 2010, and featured the biggest LED screen in the world as well as one of the biggest fireworks displays in history. The Chinese pavilion was the tallest structure of the exposition with an area covering over 1,722,225 square feet. It remains as the biggest pavilion in history. Expo 2010 proved to be a successful investment to the Chinese government as organizers reported a $157 million profit. Expo 2010 was also significant as a symbol to China's growing status as a global powerhouse.

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