Since the very first EXPO, which was held in London in 1851, and all of the subsequent EXPOs over the year, the world's fair has been predominantly considered an event that showcases the best practices of innovation and inspiration created by mankind. Latterly it has become more of an exhibition of outstanding accomplishments in culture, education and science, presenting the world's broader social processes.
The first world's fair took place in London in 1851 and was called the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. In the interceding 164 years there have been around 65 such fairs on larger and smaller scales after set periods of time. Since the very first EXPO, the world's fair has been considered an event that showcases the best examples of innovation and inspiration created by mankind. Latterly it has become more of a place for introducing outstanding accomplishments in culture, education and science. It is interesting to note that the Eiffel tower was actually built for the 1889 Paris world's fair – it was not originally meant to become a symbol of Paris.
The world's fair takes place according to an international convention signed in 1928. This marked the establishment of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), a Paris-based organisation responsible for arranging the exposition.
World's fairs in recent years have always been dedicated to a theme: The Era of Discovery in Seville in 1992; The Challenge of a New Road of Development in Daejeon in 1993; The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future in Lisbon in 1998; and Humankind, Nature, Technology in Hanover in 2000. The theme of EXPO 2015 is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.
Estonia at the world's fair
Estonia participated in the world's fair in the 20th century as an independent nation and as part of other countries' pavilions. A woman by the name of Elisabet Judas repeatedly spoke up on the subject of the world's fair in the newspaper Eesti Päevaleht in 1933, encouraging Estonia's participation as an independent country in that year’s world's fair in Chicago. Since she did not receive support from the state back in the day, she decided to act alone and exhibited Estonia's products in the Greek pavilion. The Greeks were hit by bankruptcy at the time, and the pavilion was auctioned off. Allegedly the American police then chased Estonian mittens across the US. After that, Mrs Judas was taken in by the German pavilion, where she advertised Estonian jams, A. Le Coq beer and traditional clothing. However, her participation in the world's fair proved to be financially disastrous for her, and there was no mention of her or the world's fair in papers thereafter. The Germans, on the other hand, managed to see out the fair successfully. Vello Lään writes in his book Maailmanäitused EXPO (1997) that a new branch of industry was created in selling a new product – waffles.
Estonia's blue, black and white flag was first hoisted at the world's fair in Brussels in 1935. Every European country had its own pavilion, apart from three – Germany, Spain and Estonia. Nevertheless, thanks to the Belgian-Estonian and Estonian-Belgian chambers of commerce, exhibitions of Estonian handicraft and a map of economic geography along with Estonian lighting devices were opened in the chamber of commerce's tiny rooms, and a brochure about our economy and Estonia as a tourist destination was printed in French.
Estonians also played their part in world's fairs – even winning prizes – during the Soviet era. At the first fair after World War II, in Brussels in 1958, a piano from the famous Estonia Piano Factory won a silver medal, while the bronze went to Alfred Oja from Pensa for his illustrations of the national epic Kalevipoeg. An honorary diploma went to the publishing company Eesti Raamat, while the exhibition also featured an Estonian zither, rugs with national patterns and a book bound in leather in the Soviet pavilion.
The team behind the interior design of the Soviet pavilion at the 1974 Spokane world's fair were Estonian designers Toivo Gansil and Mait Summatavet, then director of Tallinn Botanical Gardens Jüri Martin and master of design works at Tallinn Art Production Factory Väino Fishman. Estonia was further represented by the paintings of Toomas Vint and Tiit Pääsuke, and Matti Varik's sculpture Deer, which we can marvel at to this day at the Tallinn Flower Pavilion.
Since regaining independence, Estonia has participated in the world's fair twice – in a self-built pavilion in Hanover in Germany in 2000, and in a rented pavilion in Shanghai in China in 2010. Who could forget the ‘carrot fields’ (which were actually fir roots) on the Estonian pavilion's roof, created by then young architects Raivo Kotov and Andrus Kõresaar, or the slightly less known pigs at the Estonian pavilion in Shanghai, whose designer was Illimar Truverk (Allianss Arhitektid).