A Brief History of Expo

The most anticipated event of the year is quickly approaching. Everybody is gearing up for World Expo 2020 in Dubai, which is set to be one of the greatest shows on the planet. 

Expo 2020 Dubai

Don’t be fooled that the year is just getting started, October 2020 will arrive in no time and all eyes will definitely be on Dubai. As the biggest exhibition in the world, it’s kind of a big deal! 

We’ve gathered everything you need to know about the long World Expo history.

What Is a World Expo?

A World Expo is a global event that aims at connecting nations. It’s a platform where countries all over the world can display their latest innovations and inventions. 

  • World Expos are also known as Expo World Fairs, International Registered Exhibitions, or World Expositions.
  • World Expos take place every 5 years and can last for a duration of 6 months.
  • A World Expo adds to the urban development of the host country and can completely transform the landscape of said country for years to come.
  • The aim of a World Expo is to find solutions for global issues and challenges.  
  • Countries from all over the world get a chance to build amazing pavilions to show off their latest architectural innovations, as well as ideas in accordance with the theme.
  • Who will host a World Expo after Dubai? World Expo 2025 will be hosted in Osaka, Japan.

Who Organizes a World Expo? 

As of 1931, the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) supervise and organize Expos. 

Who Participates in a World Expo?

  • Countries
  • Organisations
  • NGOs
  • Civil Society.

How Many World Expos Took Place?

In total, 34 World Expos have taken place in various countries all over the world. You will find all World Expo cities in the below maps.

World Expo in Europe
World Expo in USA and Canada
World Expo in Asia and Australia

Did you know?

  • Paris is the only city that hosted a World Expo 6 times.
  • The second city to host the most World Expos is Brussels, standing at 4 times.
  • Dubai will be the very first country in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia to host a World Expo.

What Is the First World Expo?

The first World Expo is The Great Exhibition. It took place all the way back in 1851. Hard to believe, right? Expos have come a long way since then. 

The Great Exhibition in London

A World Expo during this time can more accurately be described as a World Fair. Here are some interesting details about the very first one:

  • Name: The Great Exhibition or the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition)
  • Location: Crystal Palace, London, England
  • Year: 1851
  • Organizers: Sir Henry Cole and Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert
  • Theme: Industry of All Nations
  • Aim: Celebrating cultural progress
  • Guest countries: 25
  • Visitors: 6 million
  • Highlights: Koh i Noor diamond, printing machinery, cotton manufacturing, musical instruments, electrical telegraph, telescopes, and the microscope.
  • Surplus: £186,000, which was used to build Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as establish Imperial College and the Royal Albert Hall.

Did you know that the stunning Crystal Palace was specifically built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition? It was later relocated to Penge Common in South London.

What Is the Biggest World Expo?

The biggest World Expo on record is World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. 

What Are the Highlights of World Expo 2010 Shanghai?

  • Location: On the banks of Huangpu River
  • Duration: From May 1 to October 31, 2010
  • Theme: Better City, Better Life
  • World Expo 2010 in Shanghai holds the record of most visited World Expo with 73 million people, a number expected to be broken in Dubai this year. 
  • The site was mind-blowing: 5.2 square kilometers in size.
  • 246 countries participated
  • Proved China’s position as a powerhouse politically, culturally, and artistically
  • China was named the “Next Great World City” of the 21st century
  • Saw the launch of China’s soft power campaign, which aimed at proving that China’s “peaceful rise” would be a positive step if adopted by the rest of the world
  • Inventions: Rainwater harvesting and solar power
  • Redevelopment plans: New airport terminal, high-speed rail line to reach Hangzhou, and the longest metro system on the planet.

Did you know? On October 16, 2010, World Expo Shanghai saw a record of 1.03 million visitors in one day.

In Which Country Was the Last Expo?

The last World Expo event was World Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy.

Expo Milan 2015

What Are the Highlights of World Expo 2015 Milan?

  • Location: Rho and Pero municipalities
  • Duration: From May 1 to October 31, 2015
  • Theme: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life
  • Visitors: 21.5 million
  • Size: 1,100,000 sqm
  • Countries: 145
  • Focused on nutrition and dietary education
  • Most memorable design was that of chef Massimo Bottura called Refettorio Ambrosiano. It was a pop-up soup kitchen head by Michelin-starred chefs aiming to tackle food waste. The installation turned waste food into dishes on site. 
  • Redevelopment plans: Science and Technology Park to open in 2024 and the Milan Charter.

Are There Any Other Types of Expos?

Yes, the BIE is responsible for 3 other types of Expos:

International Specialised Expos

  • Established in 1988
  • Dedicated to solving world problems
  • Smaller in size
  • No specially-built pavilions
  • More specific theme than World Expos
  • Previous themes included “The Living Ocean and Coast” in 2012 and “Future Energy” in 2017
  • Specialised Expos occur in the time frame between World Expos
  • Each one lasts up to 3 months
  • A city participates in a Specialised Expo if it wishes to establish itself later on in World Expos
  • On average, 5 million people attend Specialised Expo events. A remarkable 10 million people attended Expo 1998 in Lisbon.
  • The site can be built up to 250,000 sqm
  • The same number of Specialised Expos took place as World Expos (34). The very first Specialised Expo was in the year 1936 in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Last Specialised Expo: Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan
  • Next Specialized Expo: Expo 2023 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Here’s an easy breakdown of all the cities that hosted a Specialised Expo.

Specialised Expo in Europe
Specialised Expo in the Americas and Australia
Specialised Expo in Asia

World Horticultural Expos

  • Established in 1959
  • A joint venture between the BIE and the Association of International Horticultural Producers (AIPH)
  • As big as World Expos but dedicated to horticulture
  • Promotes innovations in horticulture and supports quality of life through green living
  • Happens every two years
  • 10 years have to pass between two Horticultural Expos in the same country
  • A World Horticultural Exposition lasts from 3 to 6 months
  • Participants: Countries, agricultural organizations, and producers of horticulture
  • Minimum size of 500,000 sqm
  • A total of 21 Horticultural Expos took place so far. The first one was in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in the year 1960
  • Last Horticultural Expo: Expo 2019 in Beijing, China
  • Next Horticultural Expo: Expo 2021 in Doha, Qatar.

You can check out the list of countries where a Horticultural Expo has taken place right here.

Horticultural Expo in Europe and Canada
Horticultural Expo in Asia

Triennale di Milano (The Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture)

  • Established in 1933
  • All events take place in Milan, Italy, at the Palazzo dell’Arte.
  • Global platform for designers and architects
  • Promotes all forms of art and creative expression
  • Each event focuses around a theme to solve global issues
  • Last theme was “Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival” in 2019
  • Happens every 3 years (there was a break between the years 1996 and 2016)
  • Duration of each event can be up to 6 months
  • Participants: Countries, organisations, universities, museums, art Institutions, NGOs, design centers, and designers.
  • So far, Milan hosted 15 Triennale di Milano Expos.

Here’s a simple breakdown of the years in which a Triennale di Milano took place.

Triennale di Milano Expo

Now that you’re all caught up with the ground-breaking history of Expo, you’re ready for Expo 2020. Dubai is a city known to exceed expectations and a World Expo hosted in the heart of the UAE will do just that. We cannot wait!

This Blog is made available for educational purposes only, in addition to providing you with general information and a general understanding of its content, including referenced laws and regulations, and not to provide specific legal advice. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent advice from a licensed professional.