History - Brussels World and International Exhibition 1910

At the closing banquet of the 1897 exhibition in Brussels, Émile De Mot, chairman of its executive committee and future mayor of the city (1899-1909), invited the personalities present to... the next exhibition! The idea has already arisen," he declared, "to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of national independence in Brussels in 1905 with a new manifestation of human genius. I hope that the idea will catch on. Although the Minister of Industry and Labour, Albert Nyssens, accepted the suggestion, the Brussels exhibition did not open its doors until... 1910, a few months after the death of Émile De Mot!

Two major difficulties had in fact arisen for the project's promoters. On the one hand, it seemed politically delicate to organise a new exhibition in the capital so quickly, while other Belgian cities were clamouring for their turn. On the other hand, Liège, which had initially planned to hold an international exhibition in 1901, was forced to postpone it for the first time until 1904, and then definitely until 1905. The Liege project, supported by the government, integrated into a series of major related works and intended to highlight the city's wealth and industry, had gradually become a priority. The Mosan city was awarded the organisation of the exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of Belgium's independence.

In January 1905, with the future of the Liège exhibition now assured, Georges Dupret, always on the lookout, sent a letter to all the senators and deputies of Brussels, inviting them to be part of an "Initiative Committee" for the exhibition. Almost all of them responded favourably.

At the beginning of October 1905, Liberal Flanders tried to revive the idea of a world exhibition in Ghent, but it was already too late. Smet de Naeyer's chief of staff, although he represented Ghent, considered that the city had not submitted an official application and that the exhibition had been promised to Brussels. However, the government was in favour of organising an exhibition in Ghent in 1912 (eventually 1913).

On 16 October 1905, the organisation of an exhibition in Brussels in 1910 (the year definitely preferred to 1908) was officially announced in the Royal Tavern in the presence of the press. A first provisional executive committee was set up under the chairmanship of the Mayor of Brussels, Emile De Mot. The Brussels Exhibition Company was officially created on 18 April 1906. Chaired by Émile De Mot, its executive committee included a number of prominent personalities such as the two vice-presidents, Maurice Lemonnier, alderman for Public Works in Brussels, and the indefatigable Georges Dupret. The latter was also given the title of general manager.

In 1905, when the date and the city that would host the exhibition were finally set, all the Brussels municipalities (except Saint-Josse, which was entirely built up) had offered land, but only three sites were actually planned: West Brussels, Woluwe and the Solbosch.

In order to put an end to the rivalries, the executive committee decided definitively on 21 November 1906 in favour of... the Solbosch! This vast area of approximately 90 hectares near Boondael was mainly located in the commune of Ixelles.

The exhibition opened on 23 April 1910.

The Exhibition lasted 199 days, and nearly 13 million visitors criss-crossed the 90-hectare site of the Solbosch (not counting those of Tervueren and the Cinquantenaire) to discover the contributions of some twenty foreign countries and the products of more than 29,000 exhibitors, to whom some 19,000 awards in the form of medals and diplomas were presented; an imposing record that made this the most important World's Fair held in Belgium before 1914.

Un impressionnant incendie, dans la nuit du 14 au 15 août, ravagea une grande partie de l'exposition. Curieusement, cet événement inattendu relança l'intérêt pour l’exposition : des milliers de visiteurs se pressèrent dès le lendemain pour découvrir des ruines encore fumantes, dévoilant l'envers du décor. Les films de l'époque montrent en effet un amas de ferrailles tordues qui donne d'intéressantes indications sur la manière dont les pavillons avaient été construits. À nouveau, les gestionnaires de l'exposition montrèrent leur savoir-faire, ne ménageant pas leurs efforts publicitaires pour montrer que seule une petite partie des pavillons avait été détruite. Ils réorganisèrent très rapidement l’espace afin de ne pas interrompre les visites.

Au terme de l’exposition de 1910, l'ensemble des bâtiments furent détruits. Toutefois, cet événement important de l'histoire bruxelloise laissa diverses traces notamment à travers une série d'aménagements urbains qui, sans cette exposition, n'auraient peut-être jamais vu le jour sous cette forme.

Le souvenir de l'exposition universelle organisée en 1910 au Solbosch s'est largement effacé de la mémoire collective. L'événement ne fut pourtant pas banal : près de 13 millions de visiteurs foulèrent les abords du bois de la Cambre ; la voirie de cette partie de la ville fut fortement transformée facilitant l'urbanisation rapide de nouveaux quartiers et surtout l'exposition bénéficia d'une publicité comme rarement événement n'en avait connue jusque-là. À côté des affiches largement distribuées, la manifestation donna lieu à la diffusion d'une impressionnante série de cartes postales, envoyées un peu partout dans le pays mais aussi à l'étranger eurent un impact fondamental.

Extrait des textes du livre « Bruxelles 1910 » avec l’aimable autorisation de Dexia.