18 life-changing inventions unveiled at world fairs


Visitors to the Dubai Expo in October did not fail to notice the huge Ain Dubai that overlooks the city’s skyline.

At 250 meters, the world’s tallest observation wheel is a powerful symbol of Dubai’s determination to build the biggest and the best.

What they might not realize is that Ain Dubai, or Dubai Eye, has a history stretching back almost 130 years, to one of the earliest World Expos, as the Expos were once called.

The Ferris wheel first delighted visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and the idea quickly caught on elsewhere.

Ain Dubai also recalls that the Expos and Universal Exhibitions have long been a window on the future, showcasing innovations and inventions that seemed almost miraculous at the time but are now part of everyday life.

With the countdown to Dubai Expo 2020 now entering its final stages, here are some of the greatest hits of the past, leaving us wondering what new wonders await us soon.


Alexander Graham Bell had obtained a patent for his phone just months before the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

This was the sensation of the 1876 International Exhibition of Arts, Manufacturers, and Products of the Soil and Mining, to use its official name.

Among the astonished visitors was Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, who exclaimed after a demonstration: “My God, this speaks!

Heinz Tomato Ketchup

It was also in Philadelphia in 1876 that the world first tasted Heinz Tomato Ketchup. He was first called “Catsup”; the word “tomato” has been included to differentiate it from other table sauces. HJ Heinz chose a transparent glass bottle to emphasize its quality.

The words “ketchup” and “catsup” may be derived from the Chinese “ke-tsiap”, a sauce of marinated fish, or from the Arabic “kabees”, for pickling.

Lawn mower

The idea that there was a better way to cut grass than a scythe and a pair of mowers first appeared in England in 1830, but it was at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855 that the world has discovered the first lightweight practical model – just in time for lawn tennis to really take off.

Picasso’s “Guernica”

The 1937 International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life, held in Paris, was held in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of European fascism.

This is where the world first saw Guernica, a giant canvas by Picasso representing the horrors of war on the Basque town of the same name, which was bombed by the Nazis.

Picasso was living in exile at the time, and the painting then toured the world before today finding a home at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

Coffee percolator

The French love their coffee, but even the most caffeine addict in Paris couldn’t keep pace with Eduard Loysel de Santais’ patented hydrostatic percolator.

Also demonstrated in Paris in 1855, the machine is said to have produced 2,000 cups of espresso per hour.

big Wheel

Unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, it was created by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, a structural engineer from Pittsburgh, Pa., Working with fairground architects who requested an iconic structure to rival the Eiffel Tower from World’s 1889 Fair Paris.

The Ferris wheel was an immediate success, drawing nearly 1.5 million visitors, each paying 50 US cents for the 20-minute ride.

It was dismantled after the exhibition but was then relaunched for the 1904 Fair in St Louis.


Less dramatic than a big wheel, no doubt, the zipper has nevertheless changed everyone’s life. It was in Chicago 1893 that Whitcomb L Judson unveiled its patented “clasp to clasp” clothing closure.

That would sound the end of fumbling with buttons or hooks and eyes. Although the design took a while to perfect, it finally took off in 1918 and was used on everything from gloves to tobacco pouches. The name “zipper” was not invented until 1926.

x-ray machine

The 1901 Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, saw inventor Thomas Edison demonstrate his x-ray machine.

On September 6, President William McKinley was visiting the fair, only to be shot by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, at the Music Hall.

Doctors refused to use the new x-ray machine to locate the bullet on the grounds that it could be dangerous.

President McKinley’s wound quickly became infected and he died two weeks later of gangrene.

Ice cream cones

The waffles of a Syrian baker, Ernest Hamwi, whose stand was next to an ice cream parlor, Arnold Fornachou, from Lebanon, was one of the tasty treats at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

When Fornachou ran out of dishes, Hamwi had the idea to fold his still hot waffles and place the ice cream on them.

And that’s how the ice cream cone was born. It was established as the official dessert of the state of Missouri in 2008.

Hot dogs

In addition to ice cream cones, visitors to the St Louis Fair were introduced to hot dogs. Antoine Feuchtwanger, a German migrant in the Midwest, allegedly had the idea of ​​serving his hot sausages in a bun to avoid burning customers’ hands. He had already given them gloves, but they continued to walk with them.

It must be said that there are other versions of the birth of the hot dog, but this one is the most widely accepted.

Amusement park

One of the highlights of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair was the Belgium Village, a replica of 30 ancient buildings and streets that gave visitors a taste of life in a place they might not have. never be visited otherwise.

Among the visitors was a Walt Disney, who saw the potential for something bigger and better in the facility. Disneyland opened in 1955, with a fairytale castle.

Colt Revolver

Like it or not, there is no doubt about the impact of the gun, not only in the American West, but on the war in general.

First presented in Paris in 1855, Samuel Colt’s six-shot was, as its name suggests, capable of firing six bullets without reloading.

Good news for the arms industry, less for the Native American tribes of the United States.

TV broadcast

Grainy and in black and white, it was at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York that Americans first tasted television broadcast on sets produced by the RCA company, which had a stand there.

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were broadcast by RCA, the first featuring Franklin D Roosevelt, the first US President to be seen on television.

Air conditioner

Air conditioning was a little-known invention until the 1939 World’s Fair.

Everything changed when inventor William Carrier created the Carrier Igloo of Tomorrow, out of fake snow.

The building introduced air conditioning to tens of thousands of Americans who realized they no longer needed to be more stuffy during the country’s hot and humid summers.

Video phones

Almost 40 years before Skype, the Bell Labs Picturephone was shown at the 1964/1965 World’s Fair in New York City.

Users had to go to a special booth to make and receive a call, and the thought of seeing the person you were talking to never really caught on, not least because the price for a 10-minute call was the equivalent of over $ 54 today.


It is a team of Canadian engineers who created Imax, or Image Maximum cinema, allowing a huge immersive projection.

The format was first shown at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. A specially ordered travel diary, Tiger Child, was projected at the Fuji Pavilion, at the time the largest inflated structure in the world.

Mobile phones

The “dream phone” was created by the Japanese communications company NTT and first exhibited in Osaka in 1970. It was also the first exhibition in which Abu Dhabi had a pavilion.

The clunky handset has delighted over six million visitors, but it will be another quarter of a century before the mobile phone really takes off.

Hydrogen car

From the outside it looked like a regular BMW sedan. But the model unveiled at the Hanover Expo in 2000 was not powered by gasoline, but by hydrogen.

It was a vision of the future propelled by the growing awareness of climate change and the need for new sources of clean energy.

Hydrogen vehicles are still in their infancy and it is estimated that there are only 30,000 on the road today.

Update: July 8, 2021, 4:51 p.m.

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