In 1851, the London Great Exhibition was promoted by Prince Albert and a Royal Commission that included, among others, William Gladstone and Richard Cobden, the great apostle of free trade who conducted the campaign that led to the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846. Steam power reigned supreme and Britain was on the verge of unprecedented prosperity: the exhibition celebrated the power of trade and industry. A tradition had begun. International Expos gathered inventors and businesses, eager to show their commitment to technological and social improvement. Even in 1939, with war clouds looming on the horizon, the New York World's Fair wanted to open a window on "the world of tomorrow."
The Milan Expo, in 2015, may actually end up being an exception to this rule. The theme is food and nutrition, and many will use it to promote an anti-progress and anti-trade narrative. I have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Europe on the subject.
Dolores Yvars left a nice comment to the piece, which I'm happy to reproduce here:
The food supply has never fed more people for less in the history of agriculture. Those who think that it is not safe or nutritious remind me of the flat earth society or the luddites, who even after they are shown that mass production in agriculture has given us not only a longer life expectancy but a far healthier one, still insist on living in the past with mass starvation and short life spans. Sad.