Two iconic expos in the socialist era in Hungary: the Budapest International Fair (BNV) and the OMÉK

The story of the Budapest International Fair (BNV) is definitely a success story, just like that of the Agricultural Fair. As extremely popular events, both attracted masses of visitors during long decades. Especially the BNV, whose success was mainly due to its entertaining features as well, owing to diverse programs like film screenings, fashion shows and food-tastings. Its popularity was even boosted by the “big hype” generated by TV and radio broadcasts.


Main entrance of the BNV in 1971  - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

So as not to make tradesmen “go hoeing to earn their living”


The Tulip Movement that aimed to boost the demand for Hungarian manufactured goods played an important role in the establishment of the BNV. They organised the goods sample fair of the Hungarian stationery producing company under the name “March Fair” in the March of 1906, together with the Association of Metropolitan Traders at the Pesti Vigadó.

“After that the cheering settled, Deputy-lieutenant Pál Döry praised dr. Steiner’s lecture that had a pleasant effect on everybody. He underlies that the aim of the Tulip Movement is to win the economic autonomy and independence of our country. He cites Count István Széchenyi’s phrase, that a country can be free only if its people are wealthy. According to statistics, millions run out of Hungary spent on foreign goods. Our patriotic duty is to promote the Hungarian industry, and not to go to Austria for the things you can purchase in Hungary. Support Hungarian tradesmen, so as not to make our tradesmen go hoeing to earn their living.”- Tolnamegyei Közlöny, 1906


A view to the Budapest International Fair  - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

As of the following year, the yearly Spring Fair was organised at the Iparcsarnok (Industrial Hall) of Városliget (City Park), with an expanding palette of participants. Stationery producers were joined by toy producers and fancy goods companies in 1907, and then the glass-, porcelain-, perfume- and shoe industry and representatives of other professions joined them as well in 1908. 

Tulip Movement of enthusiastic Hungarian women

“Starting from the hearth of the country, the enthusiastic Hungarian ladies launched the Tulip Movement, whose noble and patriotic goal found response in the illustrious ladies’ hearts of our city, led by Deputy-lieutenant Pál Döry’s wife, nee Lady Gabriella Dőry.” – Tolnamegyei Közlöny, 1906

 After several name changes, the event got the name Budapest International Fair in 1925.11_362.jpg

Visitors at the BNV in 1934  - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

Where masses crowded and what people admired

The success of the expo and its increasing popularity are shown by the fact that the number of its visitors increased continuously over time. In 1930, there were 530 thousand visitors, including 43 thousand foreign and rural people. As the event contributed to the prosperity of tourism so much, this increased its significance. In 1941, 1.3 million visitors went to the expo, having broken all previous records.  


BNV pavilions during World War II  - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

Although the exhibition was held during WW II, the BNV suffered from the war, because most pavilions were destroyed including the Iparcsarnok (Industrial Hall) that had been built for the National Expo of 1885.


 Express Buffet at the BNV in 1962 - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

1960s and ‘70s: “we go to see what we will not be able to buy”

This commonplace phrase had reality, because the BNV was actually a product introducing event without the possibility of buying. The specifically entertaining characteristic of the expo had a significant role in its popularity: the international pavilions introduced the life-styles and cultures of several countries.


Perfume test at the Budapest International Fair in 1962 - Fortepan, CC BY-SA 

“At ten o’clock on Monday evening, the tunes of the Rákóczi March intoned on the megaphones in the Városliget of Budapest. The lights of the Fair City went out one after the other, and the Budapest International Fair of 1964 closed its gates. Even during the last day, there were lively business deals and busy traffic; visitors almost made an assault against the halls of the BNV: almost one million people visited the fair, which served well that countries with different social and economic systems can live peacefully side by side.” – Új Szó, 1964


Model Mari Kemenes at the entrance of the BNV in 1971  - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

There were film screenings, food-tastings, poster and brochure hand-outs at the BNV. However, the restaurants and buffets that moved in the area of the fair, several buses pulling open trailers along the area, fashion shows, the continuous music, the radio and television broadcasts all contributed to the attraction and popularity of the event. The BNV as a whole was interlaced by a festive, modern and at the same time futuristic atmosphere.


Ikarus buses at the BNV, at the beginning of the 1970s - Fortepan, CC BY-SA 

Count Széchenyi’s animal expo that grew big over time 

Pcs_Orszgos_killts_1907_37.jpgThe starts of grand agricultural events in Hungary can be related to Count István Széchenyi's name, who organised the first breeding animal exhibition on the area of a horserace-track in 1829. The Society of Stockbreeders (also founded by Széchenyi) started organising animal expos regularly as of the 1830s. Later these events were sometimes joined with programs like carriage- and tractor-races:

“There was a banquet in the garden of Gazdakör (Farmers’ club), with many toasts. In the afternoon, guests viewed the callisthenics and other events of Leventes, and next morning there were awarded animal shows and tractor ploughing races; in the afternoon horse- and carriage-races.” – Délmagyarország, 1925


Farmers and a giant pig with her piglets at the National Agricultural Expo and Fair in 1955   - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

The popular “animal shows” and “chaffers”

Later, the society organised these so called “animal shows” in a manor in Budapest, which was purchased from Count György Károlyi in 1831. They introduced cattle types, horses, sheep, pigs, goats and modern agricultural machines imported from England by Széchenyi. At these events, there was an opportunity for selling and buying that was called “chaffer” that time. One of the particularities of these popular events was that they were the earliest animal exhibitions besides the English “Royal Show” and the exhibition of Bern in 1804. This event was named Hungarian National Agricultural Expo and Fair in 1929.

Erdélyi Károly

Translated by Zita Aknai




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