Product demos have been an integral part of world fair and trade show since the very first world’s fair -The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations – in 1851, when W. Pettit & Co. demonstrated what may be the first waterproof watch by dunking it in a glass bowl, with goldfish swimming in circles around the timepiece to stress the reality of its aquatic immersion.
Onlookers shouted in terror when Elisa Graves Otis demonstrated his novel “hoisting machine” at P.T. Barnum’s New York World’s Fair of 1853/1854. Otis proved his engineering marvel could defy gravity by raising it two stories above the gathering crowd, who watched in genuine fear — elevators, such as they existed then, were only as good as the rope that lifted the unsteady cages. If those ropes snapped –and they often did- the container plummeted and people inside met injury or worse.
Otis and his crew heaved his makeshift elevator into the air with Otis himself balancing on top. Once he had reached maximum height, he lashed the rope holding the elevator. It fell like a limp strand of spaghetti. The crowd gasped in wonder. Then Otis cried out, “All safe, gentlemen. All safe,” and the elevator stayed securely aloft, no less wondrously than a flying carpet, thanks to the ingenious safety mechanism he promised would keep him –and by extension the audience- safe from harm.