No.4, 2005

Alexander Snegin


The first international exhibition of innovative technologies was held in St. Petersburg 130 years ago

The Exhibition of New and Improved Mechanisms, Devices and Tools arranged by the Imperial Russian Engineering Society in St. Petersburg in 1875 was somehow overlooked by the Russian and foreign press which had given extensive coverage to numerous socioeconomic highlights of that year. And most unduly so, considering that it was a novel specialized international event pioneering a new trend in exhibition practice.

St. Petersburg's answer to Moscow

The idea of holding in St. Petersburg an exhibition featuring the latest achievements of technological progress was voiced at a session of the Council of the Imperial Russian Engineering Society (IRES). It was to some extent inspired by the resounding success of the Polytechnical Exhibition held in Moscow in 1872.

By the end of 1873, the IRES had already drawn up the 1874-75 Provisional Statute of the standing exhibition at the museum of the Russian Engineering Society of mechanisms and tools brought into general use recently. The Statute provided that "the exhibition was to familiarize the public in a demonstrative fashion with the latest Russian- and foreign-made machines, devices, appliances and tools; try them in experimental operation; promote the spread of the best of them in Russia; facilitate cooperation between Russian industrialists and landowners and machine-manufacturers in Russia and abroad." Under the Statute, "the exhibition was to present all sorts of machines (except locomobiles), operating mechanisms, devices and tools that have come into use after 1872 and only those that can find rewarding industrial applications in Russia. "

The organizers' ambition was to arrange the first international exhibition of innovative technologies in Russia. Moreover, IRES planned to launch a vigorous publicity campaign for the exhibits on display to promote the commercial aspect of the exhibition. Nikolay Sytenko, Fellow of the IRES, enlisted the services of his business partners in Berlin, Vienna, Leipzig, Paris, Manchester and Brussels to encourage foreign exhibitors.

Overcoming barriers

In their efforts to arrange the exhibition the members of the engineering society came up against a number of obstacles. First of all, the construction of the Applied Knowledge Museum where the exhibits were to be laid out proceeded too slowly.

Second, the selection of the exhibits and their delivery took longer than planned. "The hold-up was due to the fact, " a session of the IRES Council was pointed out, "that the new-type Belleville steam generator intended to actuate the engine on display at the exhibition arrived only on November 21, 1874, instead of July. " Owing to a delay in the arrival of many exhibits, the opening of the exhibition was put off from October 15, 1874 to February 1875.

Another cause for the delay was that Organizing Committee members had other business to attend to. For instance, Nikolay Sytenko, one of the key members of the Organizing Committee, was prevented by pressure of business from giving his undivided attention to making arrangements for the exhibition, so Fyodor Lvov, IRES Secretary, took over most of his responsibilities, and Pyotr Kochubey, IRES Chairman, also stepped in to fill the gap. To cap it all, serious financial difficulties arose. Having spent about 20,000 rubles on fitting out the showroom, purchasing machines, equipment and accessories, the IRES found itself stranded.

In the meantime, the Machine Pavilion of the Applied Knowledge Museum, then under construction, was going up. A specially set up task force in charge of arranging the machine exposition there, headed by production engineer Nikolay Labzin, was busy selecting the devices and instruments necessary to make the exposition complete.

New inventions on parade

The Exhibition of New and Improved Mechanisms, Devices and Tools arranged in the "special" showroom of the Applied Knowledge Museum, opened its doors to the public on February 11, 1875 (and to specialists and industrialists, two days previously).

The exhibition was open 1p.m. - 4 p.m. daily, except Mondays; each visitor charged a 10-kopeck admission fee. It drew an audience of nearly 6,000 over fifty days. On April 5, 1875, the exhibition was honored by a visit of Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov, a brother of Emperor Alexander II who "inspected each exhibit most closely on a tour which lasted for three hours. " The exhibition attracted the attention of Finance Minister Mikhail Reitern, an outstanding Russian reformer, who "viewed the display with no less interest and kindly approved of it. "

The exposition featured a large variety of showpieces including: a Stulse Pringl & Woodhead (Manchester) hand-operated metal pipe cutting machine; an altimeter from Prof. Dmitry Mendeleyev; a steam engine from Engineer Fontain; a portable railroad by Engineer Korben and an "electrophoretic machine" by the Russian inventor Mikhail Teplov.

An "air blowing machine" designed by the American inventor Root, attracted a great deal of interest. Similar equipment was presented on the display stands of the British Thwaites & Corbutt Vulcan Works and of the Petersburg plant owned by the well-known industrialist Ludvig Nobel.

In addition, Ludvig Nobel's exposition featured three metal cutting lathes and two sets of Gall-designed bench clamps. Pattern making and milling machines intended for armories and a drawing board of an ingenious design drew enthusiastic comments from appreciative visitors.

A gas-burning railroad carriage lighting fixture designed by Julius Pinch and exhibited by the entrepreneur Cubet, created quite a stir. It featured an automatic gas input regulator - the solution to the problem of compressed gas supply pressure stabilization amid vibrations and jolts.

Pinch found the answer in covering the cast iron regulator's top aperture with material impervious to gas. As gas flow into the regulator stretched the cover, the latter shut the inlet valve off. As a result, gas lamps gave out an even unthinking glow at even the sharpest jolts.

Russian specialists who visited the exhibition thought highly of that German invention. In its comments, a commission of experts suggested that the device be recommended to railroad companies "because it compares favorably to other lighting facilities in its neatness, illumination intensity and ease of maintenance."

The Baumeister self-igniting gas burner also earned high praise. Actually, the burner consisted of a large and small ones, the latter being a thin pipe. Flame was transferred from the burner to the pipe by means of an ordinary tap. The specific feature of the invention was that the master burner's tip protruded from the tulip-shaped hood the whole device was covered with. At a turn of the tap, the user did not notice a sharp change in flame volume and light intensity.

Awards for the worthiest

Seventeen commissions of experts comprising, in particular, Prof. Dmitry Mendeleyev, industrialists Ludvig Nobel, Gustav Lessner, production engineer August Peters and other well-known specialists, were formed to judge the exhibition entries. The commissions awarded medals to 17 and certificates of merit to 13 contributors.

The award-winners included Russian engineers and entrepreneurs and their foreign colleagues. The IRES medals were conferred on the Russian inventors Mikhail Teplov for "substantial improvements of the electrophoretic machine design," Lev Kastilyon for a hydraulic sewing machine engine, Nikolay Yagn for an automatic feeding machine. This high distinction was awarded also to the St. Petersburg Institute of Practical Technology. "Compared with the articles on display at the 1870 All-Russia Industrial Exhibition, the ones shown here represent a marked improvement in craftsmanship, design, construction and practical usefulness" which "does credit to the Institute's workshops," experts noted.

Specialists lavished praise on Alexey Ponomaryov, a student of the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology, who had won an award "for the innovative modifications of his own designs to the Spencer drilling machine and for their satisfactory implementation."

As to foreign exhibitors, the IRES medals went to W. B. Dick, a Glasgow engineer, for his improved fire extinguisher; to Julius Pinch, a German production engineer, for his railroad carriage lighting fixture; and to the Cail, Halot et Co. firm of Brussels for its screw cutting machine.

French companies were not left without awards, either: medals were conferred on representatives of Paris-based Neut et Dumont and Gramme et Brequet companies, while the Falcot et Co. of Lyons received a certificate of merit, as did British businessmen and engineers - Stulse, Pringl & Woodhead (Manche-ster), Eaterbrook & Allcard, Albert Tool Works (Sheffield) and Thwaites & Carbutt Vulcan Iron Works (Bradford).

Such celebrated names as Dmitry Mendeleyev, Ludvig Nobel and Gustav Lessner were not on the award-winners' list as members of the commissions of experts.

At their session, members of the IRES Council decided to award medals to two organizers of the exhibition - Fyodor Lvov, IRES Secretary, and August Peters, a Fellow of the Society. Besides, the organizers planned to award medals to all the members of the commissions of experts but the latter declined the honor on the grounds that "it would detract from the exhibitors' merits."

The repercussions the exhibition was followed by impressed its organizers: "The exhibition attracted public attention; the visitors appreciated the idea behind it. Many said that the Фtrial balloon' was a tremendous success and that the Society should carry on this useful practice". "The exhibition was fortunate enough to justify the assumption on its utilitarian value".

The Exhibition of New and Improved Mechanisms, Devices and Tools held in St. Petersburg in 1875 was the first in a series of annual international exhibitions of innovative technologies that followed. Besides, it was a prelude, as it were, to Russian companies' and entrepreneurs'participation in the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.

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Oil of Russia, No.4, 2005
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