Fire, Brussels International Exposition


Bruxelles-Exposition
L’Incendie des 14-15 Août 1910
L’Avenue des Nations

c.1910

The Brussels International Exposition of 1910 was a World’s fair held in Brussels, Belgium, from 23 April to 1 November 1910. This was just thirteen years after Brussels’ previous World’s fair. It received 13 million visitors, covered 88 hectares (220 acres) and lost 100,000 Belgian Francs. . . . There was a big fire on 14 and 15 August which gutted several pavilions in the Solbosch part of the exhibition. Part of the Belgian and French sections were destroyed, but the worst hit was the English section. After the fire, some destroyed parts were rebuilt at a rapid pace. This event attracted the attention of the public and the organisers were able to successfully use it for the promotion of the exhibition.
Wikipedia.

The results of the fire were horrifying in the rapidity with which they followed upon a trifling cause. A chance spark from a watchman’s pipe or the hot glow from a fused electric wire. Some such trifle as this originated the trouble. Then, at about a quarter to 9 on Sunday evening, an attendant saw a curtain smouldering in the Needle work hall. He called a gendarme to help him and tried to pull the burning curtain down. But, within a few seconds the roof was ablaze and, five minutes later the Exhibition was itself illuminated by the fiery glow.

The British Commissioner-General, who was in the midst of it all describes the scene thus:-
“Portions of the roof fell quickly, and flames ran along the facade with extraordinary rapidity, as they were sure to do in a building made of lath and plaster and stocked with light inflammable materials. Near the heart of the fire–if not in it–there were wax mannequins of Brussels dressmakers and these aided the furnace, but on breaking into the British section at the other end, where the offices are, it looked for the moment as if the flames were not coming our way, but might pass along the facade, and leave us time to save at least the more valuable contents. Beyond the great arch at the end of the section, however, there was an unbroken sheet of flame and in the absence of firemen a quarter of an hour decided the fate of everything.

“A dozen members the staff either attracted by the fierce light or already in the grounds the grounds worked hard and without confusion to save the moneys and all valuable papers particularly the plans of the Turin Exhibition. Mr Balaam, the treasurer, Mr Harries, representing the Board of Agriculture, who were exhibítors and other members of the staff lent willing hands and nothing of value was left behind. But the work was hardly done when men were crying ‘Sauve qui peut’. Entering the hall one saw a great body of flame leap along above the Bradford and Huddersfield tableaux and the priceless loan collection of furniture, flash through the light velarium, and scattering brands upon the show-cases. A great gust of wind came through the falling roof, and all was over. One had to leave the masterpieces of Bernard Moore and Howson Taylor exposed to a greater fire than that of the potter’s furnace.”

The fire was not sated. Like a torrent it rushed on, catching the velarium, and making the roof appear like “one tongue of fire”. An  onlooker states:- “The flames now reached the bridge which spans the Avenue Solbosch, between the French and British sections. With the sound of broken glass, tho roaring of the flames, the fall of girders, the bridge broke own into the avenue, and for a time it seemed as if the French section might be saved. There was, indeed, a kind of lull. Hero it may be said that the seeming incompetence of the Belgian firemen, the absence of any official with adequate common-sense, the multiplying of little jacks-in-office to bar the way were almost entirely to blame for the subsequent loss of the French Alimentation section, the Ville do Paris, and six houses on the Avenue Solbosch. Mr. Hotchkiss, the representative of the Underfeed Stoker Company, actually offered to lead a gang of men with axes and sledge-hammers to cut down the bridge three-quarters of an hour before the flames became too strong. To his offer the following reply was made: ‘We have no axes, no men, and no hammers.’ It was then proposed to blow up the bridge. ‘Dus aliter visum.’

“The bridge fell at about 10, but the French section had already caught. The fire ran along the Restaurant Duval incredibly fast. The French wines, the French chocolates, and other stalls for edible or potable wares disappeared like magic. The roof fell in, the walls collapsed, and the heat was so great that those who were on guard in the gardens below with articles rescued from the flames were forced to hide their faces behind the rose and apple trees. Taking, as it were, a second wind, the fire seemed to cross over and seize upon the brick houses of the Avenue Solbosch, and six were speedily tending heavenwards columns of smoke. In the French Industrial Hall, too, the flames began to make their way. The cases of jewellery were smashed and the valuable jewels conveyed across to a restaurant on the other side of the gardens. In the hurry and bustle amidst the red glow of the fires, the showers of sparks, and the clouds of smoke there was one found who endeavoured to steal from a showcase His fate was pitiable. Running at full speed, he was bought up by a cowboy with ‘punch’ on the jaw, and was seized by his infuriated pursuers. The police saved him with difficulty.”

Some of the most terrible scenes were witnessed in “Old Brussels,” where Bostock’s well-known wild-beast show was an attraction. The poor beasts were maddened with fear as the flames invaded the section. Someone fearing that they might escape and cause a panic in the now frightened crowd suggested shooting the creatures. Eight gendarmes were hurriedly sent for, and took their places with loaded rifles. Then it was remembered that the bullets would go beyond the open cages. A colony of monkeys were giv6n their liberty, but the rest were left to their fate. The charred remains of lions, bears, panthers, crocodiles, and the rest were found among the ruins next day.

“Old Brussels” itself was one of the most picturesque corners m the Exhibition. There were the narrow streets
twisting and turning with their courtyards and wooden bridges, which one instinctively associates with, old Flanders. The old wooden houses, with painted shutters, carved doorpost, and overhanging gables were fine fare for the fire fiends. Over the doorways of some were little niches with painted statue of the Virgin. These perished too. Within the leaded mullions and green panes one could see the benches set with tankards of Flemish beer. It was a picture such as the Brothers Grimm have made familiar to us all from childhood but all so substantial. When the flames came, they reduced everything to white cinders and black debris within a few minutes. The most dangerous moment from the human standpoint was when the fire reached Old Brussels and the crowds in the narrow streets were panic-stricken. Fortunately, beyond some serious cases of crushing all escaped.
The Mercury, 29 September 1910

La Grande Roue (The Big Wheel), Paris


PARIS — La Grande Roue.
c.1910


PARIS (VII)  La Tour Eiffel et la Grande Roue
Eiffel Tower and Big Wheel
Publisher: F. Fleury, Paris

Le Village Suisse–site of the 1900 Exposition Universelle de Paris

100 metre high Ferris wheel, built in 1899 for the Exposition Universelle and dismantled 1920.

Ferris wheels were a new thing at the time. The first one was built just a few years earlier for the world’s fair in Chicago in 1893. A mere 80 metres in height.

A REVOLVING PALACE.
Paris is to out-Ferris Ferris. The great Chicago wheel is to be outdone in the universal exposition of 1900. The special wonder of the French fair will be the revolving palace, designed by the eminent architect, M. Charles Devie. It is a hexagonal shaft, 350 feet in height, divided into 25 storeys. The entire palace will be coveted with nickel plate, aluminum, ornamental tiling and glass. This gorgeous structure will be illuminated by 20,000 incandescent and 5,000 arc lights of varied colours, so as to bring out clearly all the decorative lines, balconies, turrets, pillars, and statues. In the loft of the palace will be a chime of 64 bells and a powerful organ, played upon by the aid of compressed air. The entire structure will turn on a pivot, the motive power being hydraulic pressure. It will make one revolution an hour.

Coburg Leader, 22 July 1899

All the numbers:
GIANT WHEEL OF PARIS.
A trial of the “Great Wheel of Paris” was made lately. It stands on Avenue de Suffern, opposite the celebrated gallery of machines of the Exposition of 1889. The idea of such a construction is due to Mr. Graydon, an officer of marines of the United States navy, who took out a patent for it in 1893. The present project emanates from an English society. The first wheel of this kind was constructed for the Chicago Exhibition, but it did not attain the dimensions of the one under consideration. The metal is steel, furnished by the Societe des Forges et Acieries de Haumont (Nord). The wheel is designed to revolve around a horizontal axis situated at 220ft. above the ground. At its periphery there is a series of cars that are carried along in the rotary motion of the apparatus. The diameter of the wheel is exactly 93 metres (305ft.). At the lowest level the cars will be 10ft. above ground, and their highest point will be 315ft. above the surface. The total weight of the wheel, inclusive of the empty cars and exclusive of the axis and frames, is 1,430,0001b. The axis weighs 79,2001b., and the two frames 873,4001b. The total weight is, therefore, 2,382,6001bs. Each car is capable of accommodating 3 Persons, and the number of cars is 41 supposing the average weight of each passenger to be 1541b., the total load upon the foundation will be 1,167 tons. The foundation is of concrete made Portland cement. Two excavations, 181 square and 39ft. deep, were made, and filled with a mixture of sand, pebbles, and pure cement, without the addition of any hydraulic lime. The wheel makes oil revolution in 20 minutes, inclusive of stoppages. Access to the cars is obtained through a system of stairways and landings so arranged that eight cars can be filled and emptied simultaneously, without any blockade, in less than one minute. Each car is 42.5ft. in length. The wheel is to be illuminated with electricity for night use.

The Australasian, 24 April 1899

From “A Soldier’s Letter”:
Next I went to the Eifell Tower. I could not go to the top on account of the war, but it is the highest in the world. Near there is the “Grande Rue” (big road), which is a huge “ferris wheel,” 400 feet high. It is the largest in the world and takes 20 minutes to go round, and from the top all Paris can be seen.
The Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette, 9 April 1918

More pictures.
More pictures with a focus on location, then and 2015.
Contemporary description (in French, rather awful translation).
The Paris Gigantic Wheel and Varieties Company Limited (This put the Wheel in a bigger context, in terms of the Exposition and the world in general at the time.)