Hidden deep among displays, filing cabinets, folders and….more folders, is a hoard of valuable material on historic European trade fairs. The guardian of this cultural and historical treasure is the Archivo General de Fira de Barcelona (AGFB). It is one of Europe’s most important repository for documents on this subject.
The 350,000 documents filed away in the AGFB are a full chronicle of the great exhibitions held in 1888 and 1929, the start of the trade fair in 1920 and the activity of Fira from its foundation to the present day. Here are a few interesting facts: there are 1,452 magazines and 4,718 books catalogued in its library, and a photo library with 35,000 images, along with 1,889 posters and 3,208 audio-visual recordings. There are over 9,000 files containing material that goes back to 1888.
Little big inventions
These documents are testimony to the trade fairs held in Barcelona in the last 100 years, but also of the customs and lifestyle of this period, and some of the inventions that have created the modern world.
Did you know that the first radio receivers were exhibited at the 1929 Universal Exhibition? Maggi stock cubes were presented the same year, followed by Cacaolat (1933), La Piara preserves (1951), Coca-cola (1955) and its “chispa de la vida” [spark of life], the well-known Donuts (1956), Nestlé instant coffee (1959) and frozen food (1973). Some of these products are part of our everyday life, while other devices that we now consider essential were first seen at the fair, such as the television (1936), the pressure cooker (1957), washing machines (1958), the hand-held hairdryer (1959) and the microwave oven (1980).
Besides these domestic advances, the trade fairs of Barcelona also introduced other important inventions such as the first IBM computer (1946), shuttle looms (1944), an X-ray machine (1949), incubators for babies (1959), a portable radio-telephone (1960), solar panels (1977) and many early cars: this was the case of the SEAT 1400 (1953), for example, and the 600 (1957), the first Citroën steering wheel with a gear stick (1960) or the first convertibles.
A lot can happen in a hundred years of trade fairs, and a lot of unusual things have happened: the first televised demonstration took place at Fira de Barcelona (1948), the supermarket of today made its first appearance (1958) as did artificial snow (1963)… the first parade of bikinis (1968) and Spain’s first glimpse of one of cinema’s most enduring stars first came at a projection of a talking movie at the fair (1934), namely Mickey Mouse.
These were yesterday’s innovations and they changed the world we lived in, just as more recent inventions, which were also first seen at Fira, have done, like the first mobile phone (1990), the DVD (1998), the iPod (2001), the hybrid car (2003), the iPad (2010), 3D printer (2014)… and a host of others that are yet to come.
Fira de Barcelona has inherited this archive of great and small dreams that went on to make history.
The last few years have been spent on preserving and classifying the material and, in recognition of its scientific value, a guide for consultation has been published with a summary of all the material in the Archive. This service is available for researchers and anyone else who wants to see the history of Fira, but also those who are interested in a society and industry which sought to innovate and exceed its own expectations.
Some pictures for history (1920-1965)