Kōrero: Exhibitions and world’s fairs

Whārangi 4. International exhibitions, 1900 to 1950

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

St Louis Exposition, 1904

From the turn of the century New Zealand’s displays at international exhibitions were fewer and more selective. The new Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, established in 1901 and led by T. E. Donne, played a major role. Increasingly New Zealand’s displays were as much focused on attracting tourists as on selling goods.


The New Zealand Herald claimed that among the attractions at St Louis, ‘the natural wonders of New Zealand outshine them all. There is but one Wonderland … already nobody has “travelled” who has not seen the Pyramids. In the near future nobody will have “travelled” who has not seen Rotorua.’1

This was especially the case at the 1904 St Louis Exposition in Missouri, in the United States, where Donne arranged for a place in the Forestry, Fish and Game Building as well as the Palace of Agriculture. The Tourist Department sent photographs and paintings of scenery, stag’s heads and ‘monster trout’, pictures of Māori (who were seen as a tourist attraction) and literature intended to lure tourists to the country. The Department of Industries and Commerce sent flax, grains, wool and timber.

Franco–British Exhibition, London, 1908

Britain’s first commercial exhibition complete with an amusement zone was at White City in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Again, there were photographs and paintings of scenic New Zealand, but also a strong focus on New Zealand’s exports. Electricity made it possible to have a refrigerated display of the frozen lamb, butter and cheese, which New Zealand was now sending in bulk to the mother country. Other exhibits included gold, coal, kauri wood and kauri gum – a piece of which was presented to Queen Alexandra.

Moving village

A Māori village of 50 Te Arawa organised by Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura had been planned for the 1911 Festival of Empire. But the authorities there decided that the whare were a fire risk and one official actually pulled down one of those already up. The Māori were affronted, protesting that tapu had been infringed. Eventually the organisers of the Coronation Exhibition at White City offered space at their exhibition and the village successfully decamped.

The 1908 exhibition included a plentiful display of Māori artefacts, and when the exercise was repeated in 1911 at the same site with the Coronation Exhibition it included a Māori village. That year New Zealand had displays – largely of frozen products – at two other exhibitions: at Roubaix in France and the Festival of Empire in the Crystal Palace in London.

British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, 1924–25

Intended to encourage trade within the British Empire, the British Empire Exhibition ran from April to October 1924, and then again in 1925. Although many New Zealand exhibits were late arriving, the display was widely applauded. Of the 27 million visitors to the exhibition over the two years, almost 8 million visited the New Zealand pavilion. New Zealand set out to promote its major products – there was a wool display, a sheep pen of Corriedales and exhibits of frozen meat. Dairy products were also promoted, with about 50,000 packs of butter and cheese sold.

Edible art

The artistic possibilities of butter were much in evidence at the Wembley show. The Canadian pavilion had the Prince of Wales moulded in butter, the Australians showed a scene of butter Aussies playing cricket and New Zealand had a moulded-butter cow.

Once again the tourist potential of New Zealand was pushed. There were stags’ heads and stuffed fish, bush scenes with a waterfall, a model of the Waitomo Caves with imitation glow-worms and a miniature Rotorua with geysers and boiling pools. A cinema showed films of beautiful New Zealand.

Many exhibits and films went on to a Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, where New Zealand continued to exhibit annually throughout the 1930s.

New York World’s Fair, 1939

During these years New Zealand exhibited at other international events, from Australia’s 150th commemorations in 1938 to the Golden Gate International Exposition at San Francisco in 1939–40.

Major effort went into the 930-square-metre New Zealand section of the British pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Although the guide stated that the exhibit would show off the country’s commercial and industrial developments, it was tourist attractions and social developments that attracted interest. Opening with a bush scene, there were miniature reproductions of the Sutherland Falls and, once again, the Waitomo Caves, and displays aimed at hunters and anglers. There was a Māori village and ‘the general well-being of the community’ was presented to attract ‘the prospective home-maker’.2

Kupu tāpiri
  1. New Zealand Herald, 26 April 1904, p. 4. Back
  2. Guide to the pavilion of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the British colonial empire: New York World’s Fair, 1939. London: William Clowes & Son, 1939, P. 100. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jock Phillips, 'Exhibitions and world’s fairs - International exhibitions, 1900 to 1950', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/exhibitions-and-worlds-fairs/page-4 (accessed 15 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Jock Phillips, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014