Engineering wonders on display

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The Thames Tunnel' peepshow, c 1851.

A world exposition was an excellent forum to present works of architecture and engineering, the magnitude and sometimes distant location of which meant they could only be represented through models. This tradition was probably inspired by James Wyld's monster globe, which was displayed at the London exhibition in 1851.

Although the model presented something natural, the Earth, it showed it in the most unnatural manner – the visitors looked at it from the inside. At the Paris exhibition in 1867, the working model of the newly completed Suez Canal attracted crowds of visitors. This was unsurprising given that they could see something they would never have experienced from the perspective of a passenger on a ship locking on the canal.

In 1873, at the Vienna exposition, one could visit the visualization of recent engineering marvel, the tunnel under Mt. Cenis. An evocative diorama in natural scale, with a locomotive emerging from a tunnel, gave visitors the experience of a locomotive engineer rather than an ordinary passenger.

Another, much more useful form of presenting the engineering works were what we would nowadays call "interactive" toys and souvenirs. Produced and sold in vast numbers, topical peepshows included a perspective view of interior of Marc Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, which opened in 1843.

How to cite this page


Slawomir Lotysz, 'Engineering wonders on display', Inventing Europe,


  1. Zuelow, Eric. Touring Beyond the Nation: A Transnational Approach to European Tourism. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.

About this tour


Fair enough? Europe on display at the World's Fairs

The World Exhibitions, which began in 1851, originally served as a kind of stage upon which European nations could display their progress and achievements. Large countries in particular used the fairs to compete with each other. In so doing, they also depicted not so much the actual condition of science, technology, and art in Europe, but the Western European outlook on the rest of the world.

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