When the Bank showed its modern nature at the 1900 World’s Fair

1900


This international event held in Paris was an opportunity for the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris to showcase the innovative architecture of its headquarters and present its banking offer.

Paris awelcomes the world and celebrates innovation

World’s fairs or Expositions Universelles, launched in 1851, celebrated the cultural and technical wealth of nations, and provided an international showcase for their achievements. The most legendary was that of 1900, held in Paris from 15 April to 12 November in a space covering La Concorde, Les Invalides, Le Champ-de-Mars and Le Bois de Vincennes.

 

Plan de l'Exposition universelle de Paris en 1900 - Source : gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Plan of the 1900 World’s Fair – Source : gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

40 countries and more than 83,000 exhibitors took part in the fair, whose theme was “overview of a century”. The 50 million visitors who came from all over the world attested to its success.

The event celebrated each country’s excellence in the field of technology. France notably confirmed its status as the cradle of cinema, thanks to the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph set up in the Champs de Mars. Over 150 different films were projected at free screenings.

Numerous attractions such as the Big Wheel, exotic theatre, the carousel and the newly-opened metro dazzled the crowds. The Pavilions of the Nations, ranging from India to China, Japan, Russia and Nicaragua competed in originality… There were also spaces grouping exhibitors by theme: merchant shipping, agriculture and food, factories, armies and navies, large industry…

 

The show’s flagship pavilion, the Palais de l’électricité (electricity pavilion) located at the bottom of the Champ-de-Mars, was the ultimate symbol of progress and modernity. The work of Eugène Hénard, architect and theorist known for his transformation projects in Paris, the building housed various electrical applications in its iron and glass hall. It was also used to power the other pavilions.

The bank: the Exposition universelle’s funder and exhibitor

The banks and big companies were duty bound to take part in these events, either by joining the national section or by building their own pavilion. They were thus grouped in a banking and trade section.

Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP), a forerunner of BNP Paribas, featured among the independent pavilions alongside those of Société Générale and Crédit Lyonnais.

As in the 1889 fair, that of 1900 was financed with the support of a banking syndicate, of which Comptoir d’escompte was a member. From 1896, they issued prize vouchers for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, placed with the public. Throughout the fair, CNEP presented its activities and delivered banking services to visitors.

 

 

CNEP’s pavilion caused a sensation with the reproduction of the monumental façade of its ultra-modern headquarters at 14 rue Bergère (Paris), opened in 1882. The statue of Aimé Millet symbolising Prudence, pediment and even the bell tower were on display.

 

Located in the park of Champ-de-Mars, on the rue Suffren side, it covered 100 metres. This square construction was built by architect François Constant-Bernard.
Edouard Corroyer, the architect of 14 rue Bergère, had already exhibited a series of documents and photographs and a plaster model of the façade at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

 

Did you know ?

– Before the one held in 1900, Paris hosted 4 expositions Universelles: 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889.
– A small bank, Banque Franco-Egyptienne, later incorporated into what would become Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie, a forerunner of BNP, managed the private financing of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.
– CNEP took advantage of the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago to open a branch there, ensure a bank presence at the show and more broadly grow in the US.
– The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais in Paris, as well as Pont Alexandre III were built especially for the Exposition Universelle of 1900.

 

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