OF THE OPEN HEARTH
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
-- William Shakespeare, Macbeth
It was Henry Cole, a well-connected London civil servant and tireless champion of free trade, who conceived of the ambitious idea. Exhibitors from all the civilized nations would be invited to take part in an international exposition -- a world's fair -- devoted to the fruits of manufacturing and technology. Cole approached Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, who immediately grasped the financial implications of such a venture, for Britain had far more to gain than any of its competitors. When the queen was informed, she agreed to have her name placed at the top of the subscribers' list. The Royal Society of Arts, of which the prince was president, added its approval, and the necessary funds were soon raised.
The first thing required was an exhibition hall, which was to be erected on a roughly twenty-acre site in Hyde Park. Time was of the essence; the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was scheduled to open in the spring of 1851, leaving little more than a year to come up with a satisfactory design and see it through construction.
A building committee was hastily formed and announced an open architectural competition. It envisioned a temporary structure covering sixteen acres and was soon deluged by 245