A certain number of workmen, whose meagre resources did not allow them to pay for a showcase at the Universal Exhibition, but who were nevertheless eager to submit their inventions or their work to the appreciation of the cosmopolitan public which was crowding into Paris, joined forces and created, on the Avenue de Labourdonnaye, a special exhibition reserved for workmen, and whose modest admission price was 25 centimes.
The Minister of Trade, who wished to preside over the opening of this exhibition, opened the session with the following speech, which was warmly applauded:
"You have kindly invited me to open your exhibition.
"The minister of a Republic which honours work in its representatives and in its manifestations could only give your openings a sympathetic and eager welcome.
"He deeply regretted not seeing your products in the galleries of a neighbouring enclosure, which we had endeavoured to make accessible to all, in order to show once again that, in our modern society, there are no classes, but only citizens with equal rights, united by the close bonds of solidarity and love of country.
"But, since the prescriptions of the general regulations could not be reconciled with your desire to group diverse products in a collective exhibition, I am happy to see that your personal efforts, the assistance of the elective councils of the department of the Seine, which will, I hope, soon be completed by a testimony of sympathy from the Chambers, have enabled you to realise this exhibition, which will be for the numerous visitors flocking to Paris a new subject of study and attraction.
"Work, considered in ancient societies as a sign of servitude and abasement, has become in our modern societies the most solid and indisputable title to the esteem and respect of all, and the most effective means of serving one's country and achieving glory.
"Who will ever forget the name of Jacquart, that modest workman, whose discovery went round the world and whose name will remain illustrious for ever; and that of Stephenson, a workman like Jacquart, creator of that marvellous machine which abolishes distances and gives commerce an immense boom?
"Should not these men of genius and so many others that I could mention be ranked among the benefactors of humanity?
"It is these vocations, this direction of all intelligences, of all aptitudes towards useful endeavours, this passion for the arts of peace, which the exhibitions tend to maintain and exalt, and it is for this reason that the government endeavours to encourage them whenever they occur with a serious character.
"I trust that this exhibition which we are going to visit together will help this great movement, this civilising breath, and will bring it new conditions of duration and success.
"All of us are concerned to place the Republic on an unshakeable foundation. We all want a powerful, beneficial, fruitful, respected Republic.
"Let us take as our motto these three words written on the frontispiece of our exhibitions: Peace, work, emulation. Let us make the principles they formulate prevail by our examples, and we will have acted as good citizens, we will have deserved our dear France and humanity.
There were certainly some very curious and well-found things in this little room.
We will quote at random.
Let us mention an invention that we would like to see admitted into schools and families.
It is a map of the railways, entitled: France-Railway; the railway lines are drawn in full; a small mobile locomotive is adapted to the map, and the child himself drives this locomotive to the destination indicated to him.
It is simple, clever and practical.
Now comes a fire rescue machine, a carriage in the shape of a stagecoach, equipped with a device that can rise to the height of a sixth floor. A bridge corresponding to each floor lowers as the apparatus rises, thus facilitating rescue.
We were about to forget to mention a curious ballot box which was used to collect entries at the door of this exhibition. A bell rings at the entrance to each ballot paper and at the same time opens a valve which allows the ballot paper to fall into the box. The ballot paper can thus, if any fraud is suspected, be checked before it is mixed up with the others.
Mr. Debruge has invented a bottle with a valve, like the one we have already mentioned; its purpose is to prevent the milk from falling back down by forcing the child to take a tiring suction.
In the ceramics, we notice a portrait of Marie de Médicis, after Rubens, which is a true masterpiece; as well as some delightful pot holders; the author is M1,e Me-non, a young and intelligent teacher, who has just opened a professional course in Levallois-Perret.
The Boudin primer makes all flammable materials non-flammable.
We have seen several absolutely conclusive experiments.
The inventor, locked in a wooden room closed with curtains, set fire to the fabric; a glow was produced as soon as it was extinguished, and the fabric did not even retain any trace of the contact with the flame.
A painter, Mr. Ed. Guillot, a mute by parenthesis, has invented a folding table with a mobile panel, for the use of landscape painters, surveyors, tourists, etc.
Thanks to the mobility of its springs, the folding table can be successively transformed into an easel, a work table, a dining table, a resting chair.
In its normal state, it has a very small volume; it is therefore not awkward, and to this quality it joins that of being very light.
Mr. E. Straswecq has built a delightful, small steam engine, with the strength of half a horse, and which, therefore, can perfectly operate a sewing machine.
It is a masterpiece of execution and patience.
Mr. Corréard exhibits a very curious counter, for the use of drinking establishments; it consists of three devices, two on the side and one in the middle.
"The right and left devices each pour three different liquids and separately, of course; the device eliminates the use of the arm and the bottles which always clutter up the counters and make them so difficult to maintain.
The middle unit contains six different liquids, including water jet and ice water.
Medicine and hygiene were represented at the workers' exhibition. Amongst others, we would like to mention Mr. Gervat's ointment for corns on the feet.
In the footwear class, we noticed an invention by Mr. Rey: waterproof metal heels.
This invention must be as useful from the point of view of hygiene as from the point of view of economy.
The cane and umbrella workers exhibited some real works of art; we noticed, among other things, an umbrella head which is a real jewel.
This apple is made of the purest ebony wood, carved by hand; it is real woodcarving, not one of those subjects that the turner sometimes succeeds in executing with the machine tool.
The subject is simple: three storks standing upright on their long, three-clawed legs, their long, curved beaks resting on their bellies, their wings crossed and gathered above their heads, support an enormous clump of flowers under the weight of which they seem to bend. Such is the idea: it is graceful, charming, full of freshness and poetry.
As for the execution, it is irreproachable; the storks live, the flowers breathe, one believes to see the breeze passing through the clump while stirring the leaves.
It is sculpted with scrupulous accuracy, and with an astonishing lightness of hand, which does the artist great credit.
It is wonderful to see. The author of this jewel is Mr. Jeunet.
In another room, we saw an apparatus for making pastilles, sugar pastilles, known as "à la goutte", the inventor, M. Donnet, from Bourg-la-Reine, was right to take out a patent.
This apparatus produces white and red pastilles at the same time; the boiler is divided into two parts; on each side, there is colour; a rubber pipe, full of cold water, goes around the machine three times to cool the products; soon the pastilles fall ready into the receiver and the air takes care of drying the rubber.
What else should we mention? The beautiful imitated fruits of Mr. Mathilde Michel; the ice cream, ebony and ivory frame, of Mr. Zin Kernagel; the plates of Mr. Dapoigny, the conversation, Sèvres style, and the spring, soft paste plate, old Sèvres style, which were excessively watched.
Finally, let us note an invention which does not seem to us to ever enter into practice, that is Mr. Markowski's four-rider velocipede, something like a family velocipede. First of all, it must be very expensive; then it would need a shed to house it; finally, it must be rather embarrassing when you are on a country trip, for example. You can't carry it in your arms. You have to put it on guard or drag it with you anyway. Then it's no longer a velocipede, it's a ball and chain.
All in all, as you can see, this exhibition was very interesting. We were struck by the taste and inspiration of the exhibitors. The limits
The limits of industrial art have been completely exceeded and several exhibitors have reached the level of art itself.
The State has certainly not given enough encouragement to this work; it was indeed a testimony to an unprecedented initiative, and we cannot congratulate too much the community to which we owe the workers' exhibition, this necessary complement to the Universal Exhibition.
©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878