a1 Robert C. Post is editor-in-chief of Technology and Culture, the international quarterly of the Society for the History of Technology, and of Railroad History, the bulletin of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. He is employed by The National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 20560.
The New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations was the first attempt to pursue the aims and imitate the success of the great London exhibition of 1851. The most remarkable thing about that event had been its setting, dubbed by Punch the “Crystal Palace.” Though a number of visitors from the United States had aired the notion of staging an American Crystal Palace exhibition, the first tangible plans were devised by Edward Riddle, who has served as U.S. Commissioner to the London Crystal Palace. Riddle was a Bostonian, but New York was clearly the place for such a venture, and early in 1852 the New York Board of Aldermen granted a concession on a tract just west of the Croton Reservoir (at Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd). Soon afterward, however, Riddle had to relinquish control of the enterprise to a new group of backers, all New Yorkers with close ties to Wall Street, Washington, and London. Included among them were August Belmont, Alexander Hamilton, Jr., William Cullen Bryant, Edward K. Collins, and members of such families as the Schuylers and the Livingstons. Their leader was Theodore Sedgwick, a well-connected lawyer with a reputation as an eminent student of judicial and political reform, and with ties to the world of letters through his friend Bryant and his aunt, the novelist Catherine Maria Sedgwick.