There had been national and international exhibitions promoting the arts and industries prior to 1851, mainly in France, however the Great Exhibition of 1851, held at the specially constructed Crystal Palace at Hyde Park is generally regarded as the first international exhibition, indeed it was entitled The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.
The exhibitions served a number of purposes - their main focus was to promote business and industry, open up new markets, and generally to outperform competitors, in an increasingly global economic market. In addition, some viewed the exhibitions as more to do with aesthetics - to promote good design; still others saw them as a means to unite the classes, providing the working classes with the opportunity to see how their labour was contributing to the success and advancement of the nation.
From 1851 there were regular exhibitions, becoming annual events across the world. The main source of information on Sheffield’s involvement in these can be found in local newspaper reports and in advertisements by businesses. Clearly, winning a gold medal at an international exhibition provided an excellent marketing opportunity. Trade directories, published at regular intervals throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, produce rich sources of advertisements.
The document below lists the main sources at Sheffield Archives & Local Studies which can be used to investigate the history of Sheffield's place in the exhibitions.