The Great Exhibition was the first international exhibition of manufactured products and was enormously influential on the development of many aspects of society including art and design education, international trade and relations, and even tourism.
Following a series of increasingly popular public exhibitions, which attempted to educate the public's taste by showing the best of British manufactured goods, Henry Cole visited a similar exhibition in Paris. He decided to persuade Prince Albert to make the next British exhibition in 1851 an international one, in order to expose British design to foreign competition.
This was not universally welcomed. It faced opposition from people who wanted to keep out foreign competition and from those who objected to building in Hyde Park (their one success was to force the organizers to agree that it be a temporary site). The design of the building was offered to open competition, and the eventual winning design by Joseph Paxton was opened on schedule on 1 May 1851. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert presided over the grand opening ceremony. The Great Exhibition was estimated to have been attended by over six million people.
V&A objects related to the Great Exhibition are amongst those featured on the Royal Collection website, to accompany the exhibition 'Victoria and Albert: Art and Love' at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace (19 March - 5 December 2010).