The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was built in 1853 for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations. The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London had been a great success both financially and as a showcase of the technological, manufacturing, and artistic accomplishments of the British Empire. New York, rapidly emerging as the commercial capital of the United States, wanted to demonstrate to itself and to the world that it was every bit the equal of London. The park behind the Croton Reservoir (now Bryant Park) was given on a five year lease for that purpose, with the stipulation that the structure be comprised of glass and cast iron as was the Crystal Palace in London. The use of lightweight, high-strength cast iron helped pave the way for the material's increased use in the city, defining the look of many of New York's buildings in the second half of the nineteenth century. The exhibition opened to great acclaim in July of 1853 with a speech by President Franklin Pierce. But the success was short lived and by the next year, P.T. Barnum was called in to revive the fortunes of the structure. Despite his efforts, subsequent exhibitions were less successful, and the Crystal Palace never recouped its $650,000 construction cost. In October of 1858, fire burned the entire building to the ground in twenty-five minutes.