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Copyright: Leipziger Illustrierte, 24.5.1873

The Austrian economy had been expanding dramatically since the early 1860s. The booming economy of this Gründerzeit (the period of history marked by rapid industrial expansion) fostered an increasing demand for a World Exposition to be held in Vienna. The modernisation of Vienna introduced during this time was concentrated on the Ringstraße (Ring Road) which had been built on the former city fortifications and was intended to connect the suburbs with the city centre and form the focus for monumental public buildings and urban palaces. Because this project - similar to the radical restructuring of the centre of Paris by Baron Hausmann - involved planning on a large scale, those involved were confident that they would also be able to realise an ambitious project such as a World Exposition.

The realisation of this project was initially set back by the defeat of Austria by Prussia in 1866 and the reconciliation with Hungary in 1867. However, a few years later, the success of the Austrian contribution to the 1867 Paris World Exposition revitalised the idea of a World Exposition in Vienna so that the scheme was picked up again with enthusiasm and plans were implemented to organise the first World Exposition in a German speaking country. This was to take place in 1873 on the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Kaiser Franz Joseph. The exposition programme elaborated in 1871 was as follows: "Under the highest auspices of their Royal Highnesses and his apostolic majesty, an international exposition is to take place in Vienna in 1873 with the objective of presenting and spurring further progress in contemporary culture and the total spectrum of the economy".

The project was not only supported by leading liberal politicians, but also by Austrian industry and agriculture because of the opportunity this would allow of demonstrating the Gründerzeit economic boom to the whole world. Moreover, after the failure of the pan-German ambitions, there was an overwhelming desire to polish up the country's image and for Austria to present itself as a cosmopolitan, internationally competitive country. The new Vienna as the centre of the economic and cultural upswing tangibly demonstrated this euphoria in the form of enormous construction schemes. The "construction site" side of Vienna thus became one of the most important exhibits of the World Exposition.

The Kaiser signed the decree authorising the World Exposition on 24 May 1870. The honorary president of the World Exposition was his brother Archduke Karl Ludwig. The president was Archduke Rainer, one of Franz Joseph's nephews. Invitations were sent out to foreign governments as early as the summer of 1870. Positive responses were received from the western European industrial countries, the USA, as well as for the first time from numerous countries in the Orient and the Far East. 35 sovereign countries took part at the Viennese exposition.

Dr. Wilhelm Freiherr von Schwarz-Senborn was appointed Director General of the World Exposition in January 1871 and endowed with unlimited powers. An imperial commission with 215 members was responsible for the organisation. Also involved were 28 working committees with a total of 1,278 members responsible for realising this major project. The construction work for the exposition was started very late, and although the scheduled opening day had to be postponed, the speed with which this massive architectural project was financed and realised is still barely comprehensible even today. The Reichsrat (Parliament) approved a loan of 6 million Gulden in 1871. The costs eventually overran the initial very rough estimates by a factor of three. Another 7 million Gulden were approved in 1872 followed by an additional 9.7 million Gulden shortly before the World Exposition was opened.

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The Vienna World Exposition 1873
Gründerzeit and faith in human progress
Year: 1873City: ViennaCountry: Austria
Duration: 1st may - 31st october 1873



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