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Communication and Condiments: The First USA World’s Fair

World Expos are officially sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris. The first official World’s Fair in the United States was the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. It was held in Philadelphia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The theme was Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soiland Mine. From this seemingly disparate theme emerged two products we’d have a hard doing without today: the telephone, and ……ketchup.

Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent for his telephone prototype February 14, 1876. Elisha Gray started the patent process for his telephone on the same day. Because Alexander Graham Bell’s was the fifth entry of that day, while Elisha Gray was 39th, the U.S. Patent Office awarded the patent to Bell.   He demonstrated his telephone at the fair by setting up a receiver 20 feet away from the transmitter. Two years later, amid patent litigation, he won a Grand Prize for his invention at the Paris International Exposition. He shared the prize with Elisha Gray and Thomas Edison (who had helped him perfect his invention).

This was Bell’s first device that could transmit intelligible speech. Used with his Iron Box receiver, it was demonstrated in June 1876 at the Centennial Exposition.

Ketchup likely began its origins in Southeast Asia centuries ago, as a fish-based seasoning for cooking. Called “kecap” or, “ke-chiap”, 18th– century British Colonists first encountered it in Singapore. Legend has it that Henry John Heinz invented ketchup by adapting a Chinese recipe called Cat Sup.  Although not the first person to add tomatoes or otherwise tinker with the original fish seasoning, he was the first one to produce and market it on a large scale to the general public and is generally credited as its inventor. 

Exhibit in the Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Expo 2020 will feature the latest in communication technology, and more than 200 food and beverage outlets for every taste and budget. And yes, there will be ketchup!

Joan Thompson, Expo Sales Executive
Ya’lla Tours USA