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History of Exhibitions

So what is an Exhibition? An exhibition is a display of items in a public place, allowing a specific industry to showcase and demonstrate their latest products.

It is also an opportunity to communicate the services available and for rivals to examine recent trends and opportunities. Exhibitions are classified as ‘public’ or ‘trade only’ meaning that they are either open to the public or reserved for members of the trade and the press. Exhibitions are continuously used by all markets, and attract members of communities, and can even draw global attention. They are a vital part of the marketing mix alongside direct selling, advertising, direct mail and the internet.

Exhibitions for the purpose of trade involve marketing, and participating companies invest a considerable amount of money in them in order to gain more customers and in the long run this investment increases profits by a large percentage. Exhibitions are one of the most effective mediums for establishing and maintaining customer relations. In an increasingly digital age, they are the only media where buyer and seller physically come together – a potent force for business. The main expenses of holding an exhibition are; design, construction, space rental, telecommunications, networking, travel, accommodation, promotional literature and samples to give the attendees. Health and safety regulations must also be conformed with and costs such as booth cleaning, internet and drayage (material handling) services must be met.

Currently, a growing amount of companies hold online exhibitions referred to as ‘virtual tradeshows’. They save on the costs mentioned above and mean that people can view what companies have to offer without taking the time and money to travel. An exhibition needs to catch the attention of the competitors both attending and exhibiting. Advertising is an extremely effective way of conveying this, banners; pop ups, and light boxes are a good way to both captivate the attention of potential customers, and communicate the message that a company would like to portray. The use of graphics in an exhibition can be an important factor in selling products. The use of eye catching banners draws attention to what you have to offer, directional banners and backdrops attracts potential buyers, pop ups and light boxes are extremely eye catching. Graphics can create a more professional feel and it a great form of communication with customers.


Exhibitions have been around since the ancient times, being used by civilisations such as the Egyptians, the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Chinese. They would hold exhibitions in the market squares and bazaars where tradesmen would travel to meet with the makers of cloth, dye, and silverware. The first exhibition centre was believed to have been 2,500 years ago, when archaeologists excavated remains on the East Mediterranean coast. Artefacts such as remnants of coins from many different areas were found revealing that trade was carried out across a large area of the region.

As time passed trade spread from the East Mediterranean coast, across to the west and into the north of Europe. Because of this, new markets evolved and as the interaction between different countries increased, there was a higher demand for new and interesting products and services. New distribution routes became essential, and this led to the industrial revolution which dramatically changed the way business was conducted. Tradesmen began to offer a range of products for sale instead of just one and they started selling products in large quantities.

In Victorian England during the mid 1800’s exhibitions were considered as social outings with many exhibitions focusing on a theme, for example in 1851 the ‘Great Exhibition’ held at Crystal Palace bared the theme of ‘works of industry of all nations’. Exhibitions are currently one of the most effective ways of marketing. They provide a mixture of information, communication and entertainment and it is the only medium that allows the use of all five senses in an environment of face to face contact.


As the leader of the industrial revolution, Britain were very self satisfied with this fact, and in 1851 Queen Victoria decided to create an exhibition symbolising the industrial, military and economic superiority of Great Britain. In addition to this she felt it important to parade her achievements alongside the ‘less civilised’ countries.

By just creating an exhibition conveying the feats of Britain itself, it would have lacked the technological advancements pioneered by Great Britain and its many Empires. In order to celebrate everything that the country has achieved, the Queen decided to parade all of the accomplishments to both Britain and the rest of the world.

Queen Victoria was eager to reinforce her feeling of contentment with her reign , so her husband Prince Albert conceived the idea of the ‘Great Exhibition’. The great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park, London at Crystal Palace which was especially constructed to hold this exhibition. Constructed by Joseph Paxton, The Crystal Palace was built in ten days and was a huge iron structure covered in over a million feet of glass.

Over 6,200,000 visitors attended the 13,000 exhibitions that were held to marvel at the industrial revolution. Some of the most popular exhibits that people travelled to see were the Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, tools, kitchen appliances, a reaping machine and steel making displays. The items that were displayed derived from all members of the British Empire for example; India, Australia and New Zealand. The profits from this exhibition funded places for the public for example; The Albert Hall, The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. After the Great Exhibition closed Crystal Palace was moved to South London and reconstructed, and Queen Victoria opened it in 1854 as a 200 acre Victorian ‘Theme Park’.

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