A marvel in its own right, the Crystal Palace was a magnificent structure of iron and glass which served as the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London to showcase the greatest products from around the world. It was during this exhibition that the US gave the world a first glimpse of American technological ingenuity.
While doing research this weekend for a presentation, I came across the exhibition’s catalog notes. It nicely captures (with a touch of sarcasm) how the US, in the years following the event, would manage to surpass the rest of the world in its technological capabilities by cutting through dogma and and focusing on the practical:
The absence in the United States of those vast accumulations of wealth which favor the expenditure of large sums on articles of mere luxury, and the general distribution of means of procuring the more substantial conveniences of life, impart to the productions of American industry a character distinct from that of many other countries. The expenditure of months or years labor upon a single article, not to increase its intrinsic value, but solely to augment its cost or its estimation as an object of virtue is not common in the United States. On the contrary, both manual and mechanical labor are applied with direct reference to increasing the number or the quantity of articles suited to the wants of a whole people and adapted to promote the enjoyment of that moderate competency which prevails among them.