In 1930, Belgium was celebrating the Centenary of its Independence, and the programme of events that were to mark this memorable year included a Universal and International Exhibition. It seemed logical that these important meetings should be held in Brussels. But Antwerp and Liège argued that the former had not held an Exhibition since 1894, the latter since 1905. The capital stepped aside, to the great benefit of national harmony.
1935 brought the turn of Brussels.
For ten years, a committee had been laying the foundations for this grandiose achievement. As early as 1922, the "Brussels Exhibition League" had been founded. The subject of these initial discussions was naturally the choice of location.
Opinions were divided between Laeken and the area around Woluwe Park. The latter offered an idyllic and superb setting, but as Leopold II had bequeathed to the state a vast domain on the borders of Laeken, the latter was chosen.
The City of Brussels, under the impetus of Mr Adolphe Max, Minister of State, Mayor of the City of Brussels, made the magnificent Heysel plateau available to the organisers and provided access to it, supplied the new district with water, gas and electricity, participated in the construction of the Grand Palais, the development of the ponds, the gardens and the Forest Park. And spent 227 million francs to give the Exhibition the grandiose setting it deserved.
The government, for its part, gave its traditional support. It sponsored the work and intervened with foreign nations, thus bringing 25 countries to the Heysel. It also authorised the Exhibition's lottery, which was intended to provide the Organising Society with the additional funds needed to build the ephemeral City, which was to be the focus of the universe for six months.
Despite the death of Queen Astrid in a car accident in Switzerland on 29 August and the economic crisis, the Exhibition was a real success with 20 million visitors and a profit of 45 million Belgian francs.