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Sophie Forgan says of the Exhibition that "Large, piled-up ‘trophy’ exhibits in the central avenue revealed the organisers’ priorities; they generally put art or colonial raw materials in the most prestigious place. Technology and moving machinery were popular, especially working exhibits." She also notes that visitors "could watch the entire process of cotton production from spinning to finished cloth. Scientific instruments were found in class X, and included electric telegraphs, microscopes, air pumps and barometers, as well as musical, horological and surgical instruments." [3]

Six million people—equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time—visited the Great Exhibition. The average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on 7 October. [6] The event made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2015), [7] , which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum , the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum . They were all built in the area to the south of the exhibition, nicknamed Albertopolis , alongside the Imperial Institute . The remaining surplus was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research; it continues to do so today. [8]

The Exhibition caused controversy as its opening approached. Some conservatives feared that the mass of visitors might become a revolutionary mob, [9] whilst radicals such as Karl Marx saw the exhibition as an emblem of a capitalist fetishism of commodities. King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, shortly before his death, wrote to Lord Strangford about it:

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