Colonial and Export Exhibition


World Expositions

Amsterdam 1883

The year 1883 was a milestone in the history of Amsterdam. The realization of a world exposition, the most festive happening one could imagine in the nineteenth century, was the crown on a remarkable economic, social and cultural revival which the city was experiencing. 

The initiative for the exposition in 1883 came from an ambitious Frenchman named Edouard Agostini. In 1880 he presented his plan to the mayor of Amsterdam, Den Tex, the banker A.C. Wertheim and the chairman of the chamber of commerce, D. Cordes. They immediately recognized the importance of this idea for the Netherlands, and in particular for the city of Amsterdam.

Not that Amsterdam could really measure itself with London, Vienna and Paris, the cities where until than the most important world expositions were held. But Amsterdam had something to offer where other cities were jealous of: a huge colonial empire, which not only was a resource of growing profits (mainly tobacco and sugar), but also had a fairy-like attractive power. For example, at the world exposition in Paris in 1878 it were the treasures of the Dutch East Indies which were at the center of the attention.

So it was decided for the world exposition in Amsterdam to focus on the colonies and trade, and to bypass industry. By this Amsterdam was the first to have a international colonial exposition in history.

On the first of may, fortunately a sunny day, thousands of people came already early in the morning to the grounds behind the Rijksmuseum where the exposition was held. Today this area is called the 'Museumplein'. The main entrance, built in a Moorish style, was reached by passing the Rijksmuseum gate. In front of the Dutch pavilion was a statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen and an Atjeh- pillar. The most spectacular building of the exposition was the colossal main building itself, with its bizarre facade. This creation of the French architect Fouquiau was a nice puzzle for connoisseurs of eastern architecture. Inside one could visit the national pavilions of the Netherlands and Belgium, France and Germany and 24 other participating countries, under which Japan, Transvaal and Siam. For a complete view of the fairground, see the map. 

Next to the main building was the Dutch national pride; the colonies pavilion. Lots of different agricultural products, cultural treasures, native arms and much more could be seen. But also on the grounds next to the pavilion, colonial curiosities were to be seen; a Javanese village which was inhabited by real natives, as well as a Javanese compound with a pagoda, a bridge made of bamboo, and more. Then there were several buildings: the King's pavilion, the pavilion of the city of Amsterdam, the press, art and places with food and drinks. Newspapers reported a huge crowd everywhere in the city and in September more than 15.000 Americans were expected. 

Thousands of workmen came to the World Exposition at their employers costs to broaden their outlook. They came from all over the country, mostly by foot, to become acquainted with the wonders of the unknown. The workmen of the 'Koninklijke Nederlandsche Gist- en Spritusfabriek N.V.' had to write a report describing their experiences. These reports show that they were all very impressed by the huge number of different pavilions; they could not believe their eyes. They saw models of plantations, different machines to work on wood and metals, a paper- machine, a safe so big that it accommodate eight persons, a 1:20 scaled boulevard, a house with nine stores, St Jozefs church and a marketplace. At the colonial section they saw the tobacco plant, a tobacco shed, a Javanese village, a water castle, all sorts of wood, a nutmeg tree, lighthouses and docks, trains from the Dutch East Indies, and much more. They listened to native music and in the concertroom the heard the music which was played at a distance place. 

Until autumn the city of Amsterdam was in a special festive mood. Thousands of visitors from everywhere in and outside the country stayed in new hotels like the 'Americain' and 'Krasnapolsky', bought souvenirs of the exposition and stimulated by their presence the expansion of public transport and the telephone network. When the exposition closed its doors on November the 1st, more than one million tickets were sold. 


source :


C.J. Schotel Fzn. Uit het grijze verleden van het museumterrein: de wereldtentoonstelling van 1895. In: Ons Amsterdam, jrg 7 (1955), pp. 178-181.

W. de Vries Wzn. Dertien Delftse jongens naar de wereldtentoonstelling te Amsterdam in 1883. In: Ons Amsterdam, jrg. 10 (1958), pp. 226-230.

J.M.Guikens. Wereldtentoonstellingen in Amsterdam: impressies van 1883, 1887 en 1895. In: Ons Amsterdam, jrg. 28 (1976), pp. 74-81.

J. Wagener. Gezichten van het Museumplein sinds de wereldtentoonstelling van 1883. In:Ons Amsterdam, jrg 35 (1983), pp. 173-176.

Ileen Montijn. De wereldtentoonstelling van 1883. In: Ons Amsterdam, jrg 35 (1983).

Pictures by Gemeentearchief Amsterdam