The Crystal Palace, America’s first World’s Fair and bizarre treasury of the 19th century

PODCAST  New York’s Crystal Palace seems like something out of a dream, a shimmering and spectacular glass-and-steel structure — a gigantic greenhouse — which sat in the area of today’s Bryant Park. In 1853 this was the home to the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, a dizzying presentation of items, great and small, meant to exemplify mankind’s industrial might.

We take you on a breathtaking tour of the Palce and its legendary exhibition, including the Latting Observatory (the tallest building in New York!)

Whatever happened to the Crystal Palace? And what inventions contained within do we still benefit from today?

FEATURING: PT Barnum, Henry Ward Beecher, Elisha Otis and literally millions of items!

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #178: The Crystal Palace

EDITOR’S NOTE – I mis-pronounced the name of the Fresnel light (actually pronounced fre-nell). Its modern ancestor is used in theatrical lighting today.

 

This is one of the earliest photographs of New York City ever taken. As the Crystal Palace hosted examples from the early days of photography, it’s no surprise that one of these early pictures is of the Crystal Palace itself.

A rare photograph of the New York Crystal Palace by Victor Prevost. Courtesy Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
A rare photograph of the New York Crystal Palace by Victor Prevost. Courtesy of the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

 

A look into the pit surrounding the Crystal Palace during construction. There were many delays, somewhat sullying the lofty ambitions of the project at the very start. Courtesy New York Public Library
A look into the pit surrounding the Crystal Palace during construction. There were many delays, somewhat sullying the lofty ambitions of the project at the very start. Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A very church-like plan of the Crystal Palace building by Petermann and Guildemeister. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
A very church-like plan of the Crystal Palace building by Petermann and Guildemeister. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

Theodore Sedgwick, who spearheaded the New York Crystal Palace -- and bore some of the criticisms of the Exhibition's rocky opening.
Theodore Sedgwick, who spearheaded the New York Crystal Palace — and bore some of the criticisms of the Exhibition’s rocky opening.

 

Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs by John Bachmann. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs by John Bachmann. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

Illustration of the center of the Crystal Palace by J Wells. Courtesy New York Public Library
Illustration of the center of the Crystal Palace by J Wells. Courtesy New York Public Library
The view from one of the naves, looking towards the George Washington statue. Courtesy New York Public Library
The view from one of the naves, looking towards the George Washington statue. Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Another view of the inside, this time during the inauguration of the New York Crystal Palace in July 1853 -- looking at a platform in the north nave. Courtesy New York Public Library
Another view of the inside, this time during the inauguration of the New York Crystal Palace in July 1853 — looking at a platform in the north nave. Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A hand-colored stereoscope of a selection of Crystal Palace statuary. There seems to be some kind of Egyptian thing going on in the background! Courtesy Museum of City of New York
A hand-colored stereoscope of a selection of Crystal Palace statuary. There seems to be some kind of Egyptian thing going on in the background! Courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

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Busts, tapestries, machinery, weapons and various finery! A couple illustrations of the different divisions. Just rooms and rooms of items! Courtesy New York Public Library
Busts, tapestries, machinery, weapons and various finery! A couple illustrations of the different divisions. Just rooms and rooms of items! Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy NYPL
A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy NYPL

 

Genin's Bazaar, containing items for the infant. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Genin’s Bazaar, containing items for the infant. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

This photo of Commodore Matthew C. Perry was taken by Matthew Brady and displayed at the Crystal Palace, one of the first photographs many people may have seen!
This photo of Commodore Matthew C. Perry was taken by Matthew Brady and displayed at the Crystal Palace, one of the first photographs many people may have seen!
A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
A selection of saws and tools from Marsh Brothers & Co. that one might have seen in the US section. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

 

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This engraving shows the Latting Observatory in relation to the Crystal Palace, separated by 42nd Street.

 

A reprinted advertisement from Valentine's Manual of old New York, outlining some of the charms of Latting Observatory
A reprinted advertisement from Valentine’s Manual of old New York, outlining some of the charms of Latting Observatory

 

One of several illustrations of the Crystal Palace fire, a dramatic blaze that destroyed the building in under an hour.
One of several illustrations of the Crystal Palace fire, a dramatic blaze that destroyed the building in under an hour.

 

An illustration from an 1887 book "Our firemen. A history of the New York fire department" Courtesy Internet Image Book Archives
An illustration from an 1887 book “Our firemen. A history of the New York fire department” Courtesy Internet Image Book Archives

 

Another view of the blaze, in perspective to the rest of New York to the south. Couirtesy New-York Historical Society
Another view of the blaze, in perspective to the rest of New York to the south. Couirtesy New-York Historical Society

 

An illustration made in 1858, depicting the aftermath of the horrible fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace. NYPL
An illustration made in 1858, depicting the aftermath of the horrible fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace. NYPL

 

Some original documents that you may enjoy reading:

How To See the New York Crystal Palace: Being a Concise Guide to the Principal Objects in the Exhibiton

A Day in the New  York Crystal Palace and how to Make the Most of It

And for some comparison, a guide to the London Crystal Palace can be found here.