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World Expos

World Fairs

Last modified: 2023-10-14 by zachary harden
Keywords: world expos | bie | world fair |
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[Bureau International des Expositions] image by Zoltan Horvath, 5 July 2010

See also:

Flags of Individual World's Fairs

Many of the World's Fairs appear to have developed unique flags for the event.  We have tried to collect links to these flags below.  The list of World's Fairs is based on one in the World Almanac, augmented by the Swedish Nationalencyklopedin (Vol. 20, VITRY-ÖÄ, Bokförlaget Bra Böcker, Höganäs 1996, p. 127).  Some flags are only known (so far) by description - these are described below.

mid 1800's, New York (Bryant Park)?
1851, London (Crystal Palace) - the "first world fair"
1853, New York
1853, Dublin
1855, Paris
1862, London
1867, Paris
1873, Vienna
1874, Dublin
1876, Philadelphia
1878, Paris
1884, New Orleans
1885, Antwerp
1886, London
1888, Glasgow
1888, Melbourne
1889, Paris
1893, Chicago
1894, San Francisco
1895, Atlanta
1897, Brussels
1900, Paris
1901, Buffalo
1904, Saint Louis
1905, Liège, Portland (Oregon)
1906, Milan
1907, Dublin
1907, Hampton Roads, USA
1909, Seattle
1910, Brussels
1911, Turin
1913, Gent
1915, PPIE San Francisco and 1915-16, PPIE San Diego
1922-23, Rio de Janeiro
1924-25, London (Wembley)
1925-26, Paris
1926, Philadelphia
1929 Exposición Iberoamericana at Seville and Exposición Universal at Barcelona
1930, Seville, Antwerp, Liège
1931, Paris
1933-34, Chicago
1935, Brussels
1937, Paris.  The modern Breton flag (Gwenn-ha-Du) made one of its first public appearances during the 1937 Fair.
1939-40, New York
1939-40, San Francisco
1958, Brussels
1962, Seattle
1964-65, New York, [not sanctioned by BIE] blue and orange background with symbol
1967, Montreal, sky blue with symbol in white
1968, San Antonio
1970, Osaka, white with symbol in red or blue
1974, Spokane, white with symbol
1975, Okinawa, white with symbol in blue
1982, Knoxville, white with symbol in red
1984, New Orleans, white with symbol in blue
1985, Tsukuba, white with symbol in blue
1986, Vancouver, sky blue with symbol in white
1988, Brisbane, white with symbol
1992, Seville, white with symbol
1992, Genoa
1993, Taejon, white with symbol
1998, Lisbon, white with symbol
2000, Hannover, there must have been about 5 or 6 different versions - for example green background with symbol in purple
2004, Seine-Saint-Denis, France
2004, Seto, Japan
2010, Shanghai, China
2012, Yeosu, South Korea
2015, Milan, Italy
2017, Astana, Kazakhstan
2020, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Background information

World's Fairs originated in the French tradition of national exhibitions, a tradition that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. It was soon followed by other national exhibitions in continental Europe, and finally came to London where the first real international exhibition was held on May 1 of 1851. Since their inception in 1851, the character of world expositions has evolved. Three eras can be distinguished: the era of
industrialization, the era of cultural exchange, and the era of nation branding.

The BIE (Bureau International des Expositions) which organizes the World's Fairs was established by an international convention signed in Paris on 22 November 1928, with the following goals:
1. to oversee the calendar, the bidding, the selection and the organization of World Expositions; and
2. to establish a regulatory framework under which Expo organizers and participants may work together under the best conditions.

The 1928 Convention has been modified several times by the following legal instruments:
- Protocol of May 10, 1948
- Protocol of November 16, 1966
- Protocol/Amendment of November 30, 1972
- Amendment of June 24, 1982
- Amendment of May 31, 1988

The BIE has an official website, here: They seem to have a new flag, displayed on their home ( which is the same white horizontal flag with the BIE logo in the middle, and on the left the name of the organization in a semi circle around the logo, with the starting letters in green ("B", "I", "E"), in script-font style. The new logo is here on their official website: The BIE main offices are located in Paris.

"The 1928 Paris Convention, which created the BIE and established the rights and responsibilities of the organizers and participants of an Expo, applies to all international exhibitions held by governments except:
- Exhibitions lasting less than three weeks
- Fine arts exhibitions
- Exhibitions of an essentially commercial nature
- The BIE today categorizes these international exhibitions into two main types: World Expos and International/Specialized Expos.
The two types of Expos differ principally in the size of the Expo site, the duration of the event, and the scope of the theme" (see chart below:

Since 1960, the BIE also grants recognition to the International Horticultural Exhibitions ("A1 International Exhibitions") approved by the AIPH (International Association of Horticultural Producers). The AIPH background history is as follows: "In 1948 the Association of Swiss Horticulture (‘Verband Schweizerischer Gärtnermeister’) celebrated its 50th anniversary. The well-known representatives of the growers’ associations of the other countries of Western Europe were invited to Zürich. In a meeting the decision was taken to recreate the international association ‘Union Horticole Professionelle Internationale’ which was established in 1909 but became extinct during the period of wars and economic crashes. The new organization was named: ‘Association Internationale des Producteurs de l’Horticulture’ (AIPH). The following countries were among the founders: Switzerland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Hungary, and Sweden. At a later stage Denmark and Italy joined, but Hungary and the United Kingdom stepped back, Hungary because it was absorbed into the Eastern Block, the United Kingdom probably because it did not feel able to reap immediate advantages from the international co-operation. In the sixties of the former century many new members joined AIPH as can be seen in the list.

The BIE also recognizes La Triennale di Milano (Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture), on the grounds of historical precedence, provided that it retains its original features.
The Milan Triennal was first organized as a Biennial, starting in 1923 as part of the I Biennale delle arti decorative) (I Biennal of Decorative Art) set up by the ISIA (Istituto Superiore di Industrie Artistiche) (Superior Institute of Artistic Industrie) in Monza. The ISIA was founded one year before, in 1922.

Milan Triennial Exhibitions recognized by the BIE took place in: 1933, 1936, 1940, 1947, 1951, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1988, 1991, and 1996.

So in total, the BIE recognises four types of events:
1) World Expos
2) International Expos
3) International Horticultural Exhibitions approved by the AIPH (International Association of Horticultural Producers).
4) Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture

"The World Expo - one of the world’s oldest and largest international events - takes place every five years and lasts for six months. Participants include states, international organizations, civil society groups, corporations, and citizens. The size of the site is unlimited and participants may build their own pavilions. A World Expo is an "International Registered Exhibition", is further characterized by the broad scope of the chosen theme, which must be of universal concern to all of humanity." Source:

An International Expo is an "International Recognized Expo", held between two World Expos and its duration is three months. Participants include states, international organizations, civil society groups, corporations, and citizens. The size of the site is limited to 25 hectares and the Expo organizers provide the pavilions, which are then customized by the participants. The theme of the International Expo must represent, as with the World Expo, a global concern but it must be more specialized in its scope. Source:

Today, 157 countries are member states of the BIE. Membership to the BIE is open to any Government by accession to the 1928 Paris Convention on International Exhibitions:
"This Convention shall be open for accession by any State which is a member of the United Nations, or any State which is not a member of the United Nations but which is a Party to the Statute of the International Course of Justice or any State which is a member of one of the specialised agencies of the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency and also by any State whose application for accession is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Contracting Parties which have the right to vote in the General Assembly of the Bureau. Instruments of accession shall be deposited with the Government of the French Republic and shall become effective on the date they are so deposited."

1928 Paris Convention, Article 35
The BIE member’s states take part in all of the organization’s deliberations and engage in the development of Expo policies and principles. Member states also participate from the outset in discussions with the Expo organizers, especially as it pertains to their participation.

For the complete list of country members list please see:

For additional historical information please see:
BIE History
Historical Expos recognised by the BIE:
List of World Expos (Sanctioned by the BIE first in 1851 in London, United Kingdom)
List of World Fairs (Not sanctioned by the BIE, first in 1756 in London, United Kingdom)
AIPH (Association Internationale des Producteurs de l’Horticulture) (International Association of Horticultural Producers) (official website)
Full List of Expositions and Exhibitions recognised by the AIPH:
Milan Triennale (official website)
List of Triennale di Milano:
ISIA (official website)
Esteban Rivera, 7 June 2010

Reading a little on this topic, I found that "the 1964/1965 New York World's Fairs was the only significant world fairs since the formation of the BIE to be held without its endorsement"
When looking up that at the BIE's official website official list of World Expos, I found that the 1939/1940 was sanctioned by the BIE, while the 1964/1965 was not.
I further found that "only five world's fair events have been sanctioned by the B.I.E. in the United States since World War II: the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle (1962), HemisFair '68 in San Antonio, Expo '74 in Spokane, Washington, the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee and the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana." Thus, the 1964/1965 New York World was indeed not recognized by the BIE.
One can also see that the US membership has been troublesome over the years: "The USA had its membership of the B.I.E. withdrawn in June 2001. The cause was the non allocation of funds by the U.S. Congress for two years. Also, Congress is not allowed to allocate funds for representation of a United States Pavilion at a World Exposition. The new rulings state that the funding must be provided by private enterprise, with the representation being endorsed by Congress - not an automatic procedure"
Esteban Rivera, 04 May 2012

Not all Fairs and Expos are sanctioned by the BIE, as mentioned above.
- List of World Expos (Sanctioned by the BIE first in 1851 in London, United Kingdom)
- List of World Fairs (Not sanctioned by the BIE, first in 1756 in London, United Kingdom)
Esteban Rivera
, 04 May 2012

We have a list of World Expos, "Flags of Individual World's Fairs" and in this list we start by mentioning that the first such World Expo was held in the mid 1800's in New York, at Bryant Park (official website). It turns out that this so called "first World Expo" was actually held "in 1853 in the wake of the highly successful 1851 Great Exhibition in London. However it was not a World Expo stricto sensu. The event in New York was officially called "Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations" and it took place from July 14, 1853 until November 14, 1854"
Sources: and

World Expos evolved from local Western European fairs (mainly the French Industrial Exposition, first called "Exposition Nationale" in French, later dubbed "Exposition Universelle") which were a series of exhibits aimed to display the inventions and achievements of the Industrialization Era (also known as "Industrial Revolution"). The most important one of this series of exhibiotions was the one held in 1844 in Paris, officially called Esposition Universelle de 1844 (also known as French Industrial Exposition of 1844) which was the tenth in a series of 11 total of these types of exhibitions. This tenth Paris exposition immediately spawned imitators, including the 1851 "Great Exhibition" in London, which was open to international exhibitors from the entire world (thus becoming the first truly World Expo in which several countries could show their own works) and outshone the highly successful French exhibition. Other European expositions soon followed after the 1844 in Paris: Bern and Madrid in 1845; Brussels in 1847; Bordeaux in 1847; St Petersburg in 1848; and Lisbon in 1849. The exposition returned to Paris in 1849, called the Exposition of the Second Republic or Exposition Nationale des produits de l’industrie agricole et manufacturière (National Exposition of Agricultural Industry and Manufacture Products), with 5494 exhibitors and was replaced in 1855 by an international exhibition (which was in turn the second endorsed and officially recognized World Expo, after the one hosted by London in 1851).
Even though the BIE started to sanction World Expos since 1931, it did so retroactively recognized the 1851 in London as the very first one.
Esteban Rivera, 21 January 2016

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