The main entrance to the Belgian section gave access to the Salon d'honneur, which was designed to showcase the works of Belgian sculptors and painters, notably Messrs. Firmin Baes, Eugène de Bremacker, Ciamberlani, Félix Cooreman, Jean Delville, Jean Herain, Fernand Knopff, Count Jacques de Lalaing, Langaskens, Hippolyte Eeroy, Constant Montald, Victor Rousseau, Charles Samuel, Geo Verbanck, J. Vilain, Godefroid de Vreese and M. Wolfers.
The Salon d'honneur could be considered as the starting point and the centre of the numerous sections, arranged in elegantly decorated salon-nets or galleries. We must refrain from naming the exhibitors, so numerous were they, nor will we mention all the products exhibited, so great was their quantity and variety. We limit our task to indicating the industries represented, stopping occasionally to make a digression relating to one or another or to point out a happy innovation or an installation with a special aspect or a particularly numerous grouping.
Around the Salon d'honneur, the salons assigned to the different classes of group XII, reserved for the decoration of buildings and homes, naturally took their place. These rooms were arranged with a sure understanding of the environments they simulated and a decorative sense that made the objects on display stand out.
The producers belonging to this group had participated to such an extent that it was clear that in any field relating to the fixed or mobile decoration and furnishing with its accessories of public buildings and homes of all categories, Belgium can compete with foreign manufacturers and even compete with them.
The most important firms in the country had thus put together a series of typical saloons: each of these formed a complete exhibition, usually from a group of exhibitors. Thus, luxury furniture and office furniture, stained glass, mirrors and glassware, heating systems of all kinds, oil, gas and electric lighting, wallpapers and carpets, ornamental knick-knacks or the splendid reproductions of the works of the masters that the Compagnie des Bronzes executes so perfectly, as well as ceramics, could be displayed side by side. Over the last twenty years, the latter industry has developed considerably.
Our ceramists have in fact managed to demonstrate that if their products are recommended by a hygienic character which imposes their use in the annexes of modern houses, they also stand out by their decorative value; ceramics is therefore no longer a purely utilitarian industry; it has progressed and become an industrial art.
To conclude these notes on the character of the exhibition of the participants in group XII, we shall note that two groups, that of the Belgian Glaziers and that of the Belgian Glass Masters, had, in abundantly supplied stands, asserted the power of our glass industry and highlighted the diversity of its manufactures.
In the chemical, paper, leather, perfume and tobacco classes, the exhibitors were numerous. The leather and skin community, the Tournai tanners' community, the Antwerp leaf tobacco importers and brokers' community and the Belgian tobacco community were all notable.
The size of the exhibitions of these communities attested to the vitality of their industries and the continuity of their progress. As a matter of record, we should point out that in 1912 the former national tanning industry employed more than 25,000 workers, that its exports were made to all countries of the world and that its weekly production amounted to 3,000 hides of large animals and 40,000 sheep skins. Paper and tobacco are also two major industries; the latter has taken on great proportions in our various provinces; our manufacturers work with exotic tobacco and the indigenous tobacco that grows in the regions of Obourg and Roisin, on the banks of the Semois and in Flanders. Cigar and cigarette manufacturers are numerous in Antwerp, Ghent, Liege and Brussels, and their products are prized both abroad and in Belgium.
The manufacture of paper, for which our mills must import raw materials, has reached a high degree of perfection. Belgian papers are therefore exported and enjoy a worldwide reputation for their quality and low prices.
Following the Chemical Industries group and occupying a whole long gallery, were the stands of the Means of Transport group, the bodywork, the carriage industry and the automobile industry.
The Belgian bodywork industry has long enjoyed a good reputation, but the growing popularity of motoring could pose a serious threat to it. Our coachbuilders were able to counteract this very cleverly by orienting their industry towards the construction of cars and motor vehicles. But to achieve this adaptation, it was necessary to pay attention to the quality of the materials, the elegance of the lines, the technique, especially the balance of the vehicle, its minimum resistance to wind, and at the same time to the demands of luxury and comfort.
In any case, the installations made by several firms and the perfected tools that their unceasing efforts have put in the hands of an elite staff, ensure a predominant place for Belgian products. The bodywork industry has expanded considerably.
Some of our industrial regions, such as Liège and Hainaut, soon appropriated the nascent industry and even monopolised it to some extent. Thus, in Herstal, the Fabrique Nationale and the Saroléa company manufactured bicycles and motorbikes in large quantities, as did the Royal Star company in Antwerp. In Herstal, too, series of spare parts are built and purchased by small mechanics who assemble them, thus spreading low-cost machines throughout the country. These series were also exported quite extensively, especially to Italy and England.
The motor vehicle also occupies a large place in Belgian industry; the Fabrique nationale de Herstal, the Société Minerva, the Auto-métallurgique, Vivinus, Pipe, Sa va, Excelsior, Nagant, Germain, Royal Star, Springuel, and the Auto-Mixte are all factories equipped with the latest improvements in modern machinery.
The province of Liège alone accounts for about half of the total production; this can easily be explained by the skill of its working population, which has long been experienced in precision mechanical work through the manufacture of weapons.
Chassis built in Belgium are largely sold to Belgian customers; they are also exported to France, Germany and England, where Belgian firms are able to compete with the leading domestic brands. Exports are also very important to the South American republics, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
Belgium also has several important tyre factories. The firms O. Englebert et C° in Liège, Houben in Verviers, Jenatzv in Brussels and Colonial Rubber in Ghent have considerable workshops and employ several thousand workers; the reputation of their products is well established and several of them have a very developed export market.
The aeronautical industry does not exist in Belgium. However, thanks to a royal initiative, a limited company was founded under the auspices of the Belgian Civil and Military Aeronautical Construction Company "Avia", and its first aim was to produce a type of fast military cruiser with a long range. The scale model of this aerostat, the "City of Brussels", was exhibited at the Ghent Exhibition.
The same company also exhibited skids and waved wings of the Salomon's system.
Also participating in the above-mentioned class was a new type of electric carousel for testing aviation equipment, invented by Mr. Adhémar de la Hault, and a wooden model of an automobile wheel and landing gear. This wheel, due to Count Gaëtan de Robiano, eliminates the puncture of the tyre and the inner tube; hence the impossibility of destroying it by bullets.
Under the general heading: "Instruments and general processes of letters, sciences and arts", group III included typography, its works and equipment, bookstores, photography, maps and geography, precision instruments, coins and medals, medicine and surgery, musical instruments.
Typography and bookstores occupy a place commensurate with their importance in the general activity of the country. Belgium is no longer completely dependent on foreign countries; the country's prosperity has brought about an intense intellectual and artistic movement. The typographic equipment has been brought up to the level of modern progress; posters and art publishing, thanks to the talent of our artists and the improvement of the machines, easily compete with the most beautiful productions of foreign countries.
The related classes of typography and bookstore brought together about ninety exhibitors, industrialists or printers. Several of them formed the printing, bookstore and related professions group, which also participated in class XII: bookstore, music publishing, bookbinding, newspapers, posters.
The programs of these two classes were represented by a host of typographical and bookstore works: books, catalogues, posters, registers, labels, engravings, lithography, as well as by equipment related to these industries.
The participation of several publishers of curiosity or art books, classical and scientific books, as well as that of the Musée du Livre, should be noted; we should also mention the main publishers of geography and cosmography apparatus, as well as the Belgian Association of Photography and the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp.
The works of the producers in Group III, although tangible and material, are nevertheless intellectual in nature. They are addressed to the mind and develop the intelligence to which they open new horizons; they increase the amount of knowledge. But for the lessons thus given to be useful and not harmful to health, the human body must find compensating elements; it is advisable to be inspired by the old maxim: Mens sana in corpore sano. In this respect, sports can have a beneficial effect.
Therefore, at the Ghent Exhibition, they had a privileged position, and their salons were an effective means of propaganda as well as an attraction. On this subject, the late Mr. Albert Feyerick was kind enough to write a very complete study for this Golden Book, from which we extract the following considerations.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913