World's fair

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Poster advertising the Brussels International Exposition in 1897
Replica of the Gokstad Viking ship at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair
Palace of the railways and great connections at the International Exhibition of Hydropower and Tourism in Grenoble, France in 1925

A world's fair, also known as a universal exhibition or an expo, is a large global exhibition designed to showcase the achievements of nations.[1] These exhibitions vary in character and are held in different parts of the world at a specific site for a period of time, typically between three and six months.[1]

The term "world's fair" is commonly used in the United States,[2] while the French term, Exposition universelle ("universal exhibition"[3]) is used in most of Europe and Asia; other terms include World Expo or Specialised Expo, with the word expo used for various types of exhibitions since at least 1958.

Since the adoption of the 1928 Convention Relating to International Exhibitions, the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions has served as an international sanctioning body for international exhibitions; four types of international exhibition are organised under its auspices: World Expos, Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos (regulated by the International Association of Horticultural Producers), and the Milan Triennial.

Astana, Kazakhstan, held the most recent Specialised Expo in 2017 while Dubai, United Arab Emirates, hosted Expo 2020 (which was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).[4] Belgrade, Serbia, has been selected to host the next Specialised Expo, to take place in 2027 from 15 May to 15 August.


Exposition universelle in Paris, 1867

In 1791, Prague organized the first World's Fair in Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic).[5][6][7] The first industrial exhibition was on the occasion of the coronation of Leopold II as a king of Bohemia, which took place in Clementinum, and celebrated the considerable sophistication of manufacturing methods in the Czech lands during that time period.[8]

France had a tradition of national exhibitions, which culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. This fair was followed by other national exhibitions in Europe. In 1851, under the title "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations", the World Expo was held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, the United Kingdom. The Great Exhibition, as it is often called, was an idea of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, and is usually considered to be the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It influenced the development of several aspects of society, including art-and-design education, international trade and relations, and tourism.[9] This expo was the precedent for the many international exhibitions, later called World Expos, that have continued to be held to the present time.

The character of world fairs, or expositions, has evolved since the first one in 1851. Three eras can be distinguished: the era of industrialization, the era of cultural exchange, and the era of nation branding.[10]

Industrialization (1851–1938)[edit]

The Yerkes Great refractor telescope mounted at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago

The first era, the era of "industrialization", roughly covered the years from 1850 to 1938. In these years, world expositions were largely focused on trade and displayed technological advances and inventions. World expositions were platforms for state-of-the-art science and technology from around the world. The world expositions of 1851 London, 1853 New York, 1862 London, 1876 Philadelphia, Paris 1878, 1888 Barcelona, 1889 Paris, 1891 Prague, 1893 Chicago, 1897 Brussels, 1900 Paris, 1904 St. Louis, 1915 San Francisco, and 1933–1934 Chicago were notable in this respect.[11] Inventions such as the telephone were first presented during this era. This era set the basic character of the world fair.[12]

Cultural exchange (1939–1987)[edit]

Ice Follies at the Seattle 1962 World's Fair

The 1939–1940 New York World's Fair, and those that followed, took a different approach, one less focused on technology and aimed more at cultural themes and social progress. For instance, the theme of the 1939 fair was "Building the World of Tomorrow"; at the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, it was "Peace Through Understanding"; at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, it was "Man and His World". These fairs encouraged effective intercultural communication along with sharing of technological innovation.

The 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal was promoted under the name Expo 67. Event organizers retired the term world's fair in favor of Expo (the Montreal Expos, a former Major League Baseball team, was named for the 1967 fair).[13]

Nation branding (1988–present)[edit]

1992 Expo in Seville, Spain

From World Expo 88 in Brisbane onwards, countries started to use expositions as a platform to improve their national image through their pavilions. Finland, Japan, Canada, France, and Spain are cases in point. A major study by Tjaco Walvis called "Expo 2000 Hanover in Numbers" showed that improving national image was the main goal for 73% of the countries participating in Expo 2000.[citation needed] Pavilions became a kind of advertising campaign, and the Expo served as a vehicle for "nation branding". According to branding expert Wally Olins, Spain used Expo '92 and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona in the same year to underscore its new position as a modern and democratic country and to show itself as a prominent member of the European Union and the global community.[citation needed]

At Expo 2000 Hanover, countries created their own architectural pavilions, investing, on average, €12 million each.[14] Given these costs, governments are sometimes hesitant to participate, because the benefits may not justify the costs. However, while the effects are difficult to measure, an independent study for the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2000 estimated that the pavilion (which cost around €35 million) generated around €350 million of potential revenues for the Dutch economy. It also identified several key success factors for world-exposition pavilions in general.[15]


Expo tower for the Osaka 1970 World Expo in Japan

At present there are two types of international exhibition: World Expos (formally known as International Registered Exhibitions) and Specialised Expos (formally known as International Recognised Exhibitions).[16] World Expos, previously known as universal expositions, are the biggest category events. At World Expos, participants generally build their own pavilions. They are therefore the most extravagant and most expensive expos. Their duration may be between six weeks and six months. Since 1995, the interval between two World Expos has been at least five years. World Expo 2015 was held in Milan, Italy, from 1 May to 31 October 2015.

Specialised Expos are smaller in scope and investments and generally shorter in duration; between three weeks and three months. Previously, these Expos were called Special Exhibitions or International Specialized Exhibitions but these terms are no longer used officially. Their total surface area must not exceed 25 hectares (62 acres) and organizers must build pavilions for the participating states, free of rent, charges, taxes and expenses. The largest country pavilions may not exceed 1,000 m2 (14 acre). Only one Specialised Expo can be held between two World Expos.[17]

An additional two types of international exhibition may be recognized by the BIE: horticultural exhibitions, which are joint BIE and AIPH-sanctioned 'garden' fairs in which participants present gardens and garden pavilions; and the semi-regular Milan Triennial (not always held every third year) art and design exhibition, held in Milan, Italy, with the BIE granting official international exhibition status to 14 editions of the Triennale between 1996 and 2016.[18]

World Expos[edit]

Expo 2000 brickwork, for the World Expo in Hannover, Germany in 2000

World Expos (formally known as International Registered Exhibitions) encompass universal themes that affect the full gamut of human experience, and international and corporate participants are required to adhere to the theme in their representations. Registered expositions are held every 5 years because they are more expensive as they require total design of pavilion buildings from the ground up. As a result, nations compete for the most outstanding or memorable structure—for example Japan, France, Morocco, and Spain at Expo '92. Sometimes prefabricated structures are used to minimize costs for developing countries, or for countries from a geographical block to share space (i.e. Plaza of the Americas at Seville '92).

ASIMO at Expo 2005 in Japan

In the 21st century the BIE has moved to sanction World Expos every five years; following the numerous expos of the 1980s and 1990s, some see this as a means to cut down potential expenditure by participating nations. The move was also seen by some as an attempt to avoid conflicting with the Summer Olympics. World Expos are restricted to every five years, with Specialized Expos in the in-between years.

Specialised Expos[edit]

Panoramic view of Expo 2012 Yeosu, in South Korea

Specialized Expos (formally known as International Recognized Exhibitions) are usually united by a precise theme—such as "Future Energy" (Expo 2017 Astana), "The Living Ocean and Coast" (Expo 2012 Yeosu), or "Leisure in the Age of Technology" (Brisbane, Expo '88). Such themes are more specific than the wider scope of world expositions.

Specialized Expos are usually smaller in scale and cheaper to run for the host committee and participants because the architectural fees are lower and they only have to customize pavilion space provided free of charge from the Organiser, usually with the prefabricated structure already completed. Countries then have the option of "adding" their own colours, design etc. to the outside of the prefabricated structure and filling in the inside with their own content.

List of expositions[edit]

List of official world expositions (Universal and International/Specialised) according to the Bureau International des Expositions.[19]

World Expos[edit]

Dates[20] Name of exposition[20] Country[20] City[20] Theme[20]
Apr–Oct 1851 Great Exhibition  United Kingdom London Industry of all Nations
May–Nov 1855 Exposition Universelle / Paris International  France Paris Agriculture, Industry and Art
May–Nov 1862 International Exhibition  United Kingdom London Industry and Arts
Apr–Nov 1867 Exposition Universelle / Paris International  France Paris Agriculture, Industry and Arts
May–Oct 1873 Weltausstellung 1873 Wien / Austrian International Exposition  Austria-Hungary Vienna Culture and Education
May–Nov 1876 Centennial Exposition  United States Philadelphia Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine
May–Nov 1878 Exposition Universelle / Paris International Exposition  France Paris New Technologies
Oct 1880 – Apr 1881 Melbourne International Exhibition Colony of Victoria Melbourne Arts, Manufacturing, Agriculture and Industrial Products of all Nations
Apr–Dec 1888 Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888)  Spain Barcelona Fine and Industrial Art
May–Oct 1889 Exposition Universelle / Paris International Exposition  France Paris French Revolution
May–Oct 1893 World's Columbian Exposition  United States Chicago Discovery of America
May–Nov 1897 Brussels International Exposition  Belgium Brussels Modern Life
15 Apr – 12 Nov 1900 Exposition Universelle  France Paris 19th century: an overview
Apr–Dec 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition  United States St. Louis Louisiana Purchase
Apr–Nov 1905 Liège International (1905)  Belgium Liège Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of independence
Apr–Nov 1906 Milan International  Italy Milan Transport
Apr–Nov 1910 Brussels International Exhibition  Belgium Brussels Works of Art and Science, Agricultural and Industrial Products of All Nations
Apr–Nov 1913 Exposition universelle et international / Ghent International Exposition  Belgium Ghent Peace, Industry and Art
Feb–Dec 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition  United States San Francisco Inauguration of the Panama Canal
May 1929 – Jan 1930 Barcelona International Exposition  Spain Barcelona Arts, Industry and Sport
May 1933 – Oct 1934 Century of Progress  United States Chicago The interdependence among industry and scientific research
Apr–Nov 1935 Brussels International Exposition  Belgium Brussels Transports
May–Nov 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne / Paris International Exposition  France Paris Arts and Technology in modern life
Feb 1939 – Sep 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition  United States San Francisco Pageant of the Pacific
Apr 1939 – Oct 1940 New York World's Fair  United States New York Building The World of Tomorrow
Dec 1949 – Jun 1950 Exposition internationale du bicentenaire de Port-au-Prince  Haiti Port-au-Prince The festival of Peace
Jul–Sep 1958 Brussels World's Fair  Belgium Brussels A World View: A New Humanism
Apr–Oct 1962 Century 21  United States Seattle Man in the Space Age
Apr–Oct 1967 Expo 67  Canada Montreal Man and His World
Mar–Sep 1970 Expo '70  Japan Osaka Progress and Harmony for Mankind
Apr–Oct 1992 Expo '92  Spain Seville The Era of Discovery
Jun–Oct 2000 Expo 2000  Germany Hanover Man, Nature, Technology
Mar–Sep 2005 Expo 2005  Japan Aichi Nature's Wisdom
May–Oct 2010 Expo 2010  China Shanghai Better City, Better Life
May–Oct 2015 Expo 2015  Italy Milan Feeding the planet, Energy for life
Oct 2021 – Apr 2022 Expo 2020  United Arab Emirates Dubai Connecting Minds, Creating the Future
Apr–Oct 2025 Expo 2025  Japan Osaka Designing Future Society for Our Lives
Oct 2030 – Apr 2031 Expo 2030  Saudi Arabia Riyadh The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow

Specialised Expos[edit]

Dates[21] Name of Exposition[21] Country City[21] Theme[21]
05/1936 – 06/1936 ILIS 1936  Sweden Stockholm Aviation
05/1938 – 05/1938 Second International Aeronautic Exhibition  Finland Helsinki Aerospace
05/1939 – 09/1939 Exposition internationale de l'eau (1939)  Belgium Liège Art of Water
07/1947 – 08/1947 International Exhibition on Urbanism and Housing  France Paris Urbanism and Housing
07/1949 – 08/1949 Universal Sport Exhibition (1949)  Sweden Stockholm Sport and physical culture
09/1949 – 10/1949 The International Exhibition of Rural Habitat in Lyon  France Lyon Rural Habitat
04/1951 – 05/1951 The International Textile Exhibition  France Lille Textile
07/1953 – 10/1953 EA 53  Italy Rome Agriculture
09/1953 – 10/1953 Conquest of the Desert (exhibition)  Israel Jerusalem Conquest of the Desert
05/1954 – 10/1954 The International Exhibition of Navigation (1954)  Italy Naples Navigation
05/1955 – 06/1955 The International Expo of Sport (1955)  Italy Turin Sport
06/1955 – 08/1955 Helsingborg exhibition 1955  Sweden Helsingborg Modern Man in the Environment
05/1956 – 06/1956 Exhibition of citriculture  Israel Beit Dagan Citrus
07/1957 – 09/1957 Interbau  West Germany West Berlin Reconstruction of Hansa District
05/1961 – 10/1961 Expo 61  Italy Turin Celebration of centennial of Italian unity
06/1965 – 10/1965 IVA 65  West Germany Munich Transport
04/1968 – 10/1968 HemisFair '68  United States San Antonio Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas
08/1971 – 09/1971 Expo 71  Hungary Budapest The Hunt through the World
05/1974 – 11/1974 Expo '74  United States Spokane Celebrating Tomorrow's Fresh New Environment
07/1975 – 01/1976 Expo '75  Japan Okinawa The Sea We would like to See
06/1981 – 07/1981 Expo 81  Bulgaria Plovdiv Hunting
05/1982 – 10/1982 1982 World's Fair  United States Knoxville Energy Turns the World
05/1984 – 11/1984 1984 World's Fair  United States New Orleans The World of Rivers– Fresh Water as a source of life
03/1985 – 09/1985 Expo 85 (Tsukuba, Japan)  Japan Tsukuba Dwellings and Surroundings – Science and Technology for Man at Home
11/1985 – 11/1985 Expo 85 (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)  Bulgaria Plovdiv Inventions
05/1986 – 10/1986 Expo 86  Canada Vancouver Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch
04/1988 – 10/1988 Expo '88  Australia Brisbane Leisure in the Age of Technology
06/1991 – 07/1991 Expo 91  Bulgaria Plovdiv The activity of young people in the service of a World of Peace
05/1992 – 08/1992 Expo Colombo '92  Italy Genoa Christopher Columbus, The Ship and the Sea
08/1993 – 11/1993 Expo '93  South Korea Daejeon The Challenge of a New Road of Development
05/1998 – 09/1998 Expo '98  Portugal Lisbon The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future
06/2008 – 09/2008 Expo 2008  Spain Zaragoza Water and Sustainable development
05/2012 – 08/2012 Expo 2012  South Korea Yeosu The Living Ocean and Coast
06/2017 – 09/2017 Expo 2017  Kazakhstan Astana Future Energy
05/2027 – 08/2027 Expo 2027  Serbia Belgrade Play for Humanity: Sport and Music for All


The Space Needle and Monorail depicted on this 1962 stamp

Most of the structures are temporary and are dismantled after the fair closes, except for landmark towers. By far the most famous of these is the Eiffel Tower, built for the Exposition Universelle (1889). Although it is now the most recognized symbol of its host city Paris, there were contemporary critics opposed to its construction, and demands for it to be dismantled after the fair's conclusion.[22]

Other structures that remain from these fairs:

Seattle – World's Fair sign at 47th and Aurora, 1962
The Unisphere, from the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, USA in the early 21st century
View of 1982 fairgrounds, with the Sunsphere
  • 1982 – Knoxville: The Sunsphere from the Knoxville World's Fair remains as a feature of Knoxville's skyline.
  • 1984 – New Orleans: The main pavilions of the 1984 New Orleans World's Fair became the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which is also known for its use as a shelter of last resort during Hurricane Katrina.
  • 1986 – Vancouver: In Vancouver, many Expo 86 projects were designed as legacy projects. Of note are the Skytrain, Science World and Canada Place.
  • 1988 – Brisbane: The Skyneedle, the symbol tower of Expo '88 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, still stands. Other survivors are the Nepalese Peace Pagoda of the Nepalese representation, now at the transformed World Expo '88 site South Bank Parklands, and the Japan Pond and Garden from the Japanese representation, now at the Brisbane Mount Cooth-tha Botanic Gardens. In 2018 the World Expo 88 Art Trail was re-birthed and dramatically expanded as part of the 30th Anniversary of World expo 88, now forming a Major tourist attraction in its own right.[28]
  • 1992 – Seville: The pavilions of Expo '92 in Seville had been converted into a technological square and a theme park.
  • 1998 – Lisbon: The main buildings of Expo '98 in Lisbon were completely integrated into the city itself and many of the art exhibition pieces still remain.
  • 2005 – Nagoya: The home of Satsuki & Mei Kusakabe, built for the 2005 Expo in Aichi, remains operating at its original site in Morikoro Park and is a popular tourist attraction.
The China pavilion at the Expo 2010; repurposed as a museum
  • 2010 – Shanghai: The China pavilion from Expo 2010 in Shanghai, the largest display in the history of the World Expo, is now the China Art Museum, the largest art museum in Asia.
  • 2015 – Milan: The Italian Pavilion of Expo 2015 remains on the original site.

Some world's fair sites became (or reverted to) parks incorporating some of the expo elements, such as:

Poster for the 1900 expo

Some pavilions have been transported overseas intact:

The Brussels Expo '58 relocated many pavilions within Belgium: the pavilion of Jacques Chocolats moved to the town of Diest to house the new town swimming pool. Another pavilion was relocated to Willebroek and has been used as dance hall Carré[34] ever since. One smaller pavilion still stands on the boulevard towards the Atomium: the restaurant "Salon 58" in the pavilion of Comptoir Tuilier.

Many exhibitions and rides created by Walt Disney and his WED Enterprises company for the 1964 New York World's Fair (which was held over into 1965) were moved to Disneyland after the closing of the Fair. Many of the rides, including "It's a Small World", and "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln", as well as the building that housed the Carousel of Progress are still in operation.

Disney had contributed so many exhibits to the New York fair in part because the corporation had originally envisioned a "permanent World's Fair" at the Flushing site. That concept instead came to fruition with the Disney Epcot theme park, an extension of the Walt Disney World Resort, near Orlando, Florida. Epcot has many characteristics of a typical universal exposition: national pavilions and exhibits concerning technology and/or the future, along with more typical amusement park rides. Meanwhile, several of the 1964 attractions that were relocated to Disneyland have been duplicated at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Occasionally other mementos of the fairs remain. In the New York City Subway system, signs directing people to Flushing Meadows, Queens remain from the 1964–65 event. In the Montreal subway at least one tile artwork of its theme, "Man and His World", remains. Also, a seemingly endless supply of souvenir items from fair visits can be found, and in the United States, at least, often turn up at garage or estate sales. Many fairs and expos produced postage stamps and commemorative coins.

The 1904 Olympic Games, officially the Games of the III Olympiad, were held in conjunction with the 1904 St. Louis fair, although no explicit coordination is evident. The Exposition Universelle (1900) Paris was also concomitant with the Olympic Games.

Current and upcoming expositions[edit]

2023 Buenos Aires[edit]

Expo 2023 was to be held at the Argentinian capital and have a theme of "Science, Innovation, Art and Creativity for Human Development. Creative Industries in Digital Convergence".

Four countries had submitted bids to host Specialised Expo 2022/23:

At the end of the project examination phase, BIE Member States voted for Buenos Aires as the host city of Expo 2022/23 via a secret ballot at the BIE General Assembly, held in November 2017.[38]

However, Buenos Aires announced its withdrawal with no reschedule date.[39][40]

2025 Osaka[edit]

Expo 2025 will be held at the Japanese city of Osaka and will have a theme of "Designing Future Society for Our Lives!".

Four countries had submitted bids to host World Expo 2025:

  • Japan Osaka, Japan
    Osaka made its official bid for the Expo on 24 April 2017[41] with the theme "Designing Future Society for Our Lives".[42]
  • Azerbaijan Baku, Azerbaijan
    The Azerbaijani capital entered its candidacy before the deadline[43] under the theme "Human Capital".
  • France Paris, France (withdrawn)
    The French capital was the first to declare its candidacy,[44] under the theme "Sharing our Knowledge, Caring for our Planet".[45] The candidacy was withdrawn in January 2018 because of budget constraints.[46]
  • Russia Yekaterinburg, Russia
    The Russian city entered its candidacy on 22 May 2017[44] under the theme "Changing world: inclusive innovation is for our children and future generations".

At the end of the project examination phase, BIE Member States voted for Osaka as the host city of Expo 2025 via a secret ballot at the BIE General Assembly, held in November 2018.

2027 Belgrade[edit]

Expo 2027 will be held at the Serbian capital Belgrade and will have a theme of "Play for Humanity: Sport and Music for All.".

Five countries had submitted bids to host Specialised Expo 2027/28:

At the end of the project examination phase, BIE Member States voted for Belgrade as the host city of Expo 2027/28 via a secret ballot at the BIE General Assembly, held in June 2023.[48]

2030 Riyadh[edit]

Expo 2030 will be held at the Saudi capital Riyadh and will have a theme of "The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow.".

Potential host countries had applied to host Expo 2030 between 6 and 9 years before its opening date.[49] Once one country has submitted an application, alternative countries have 6 months to submit theirs.[49]

At the 167th BIE general assembly both South Korea and Russia indicated their intention to bid for this expo.[50]

At the end of the project examination phase, BIE Member States had voted Riyadh as the host city of Expo 2030 via a secret ballot at the BIE General Assembly on 28 November 2023.

Non-BIE efforts[edit]

The only Expo to be held without BIE approval was the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair;[51] the sanctioning organization at Paris denied it "official" status because its president, Robert Moses, would not comply with the BIE rule limiting the duration of universal expositions to six months. The Fair proceeded without BIE approval, and turned to tourism and trade organizations to host national pavilions in lieu of official government sponsorship. Many countries participated in that fair, including several newly independent African and Asian states.[52] The two World's Fairs in New York (1939–40 and 1964–65) and the Century of Progress in Chicago (1934–1935) are the only two-year world expositions that have been held.[citation needed]

Frederick Pittera, a producer of international exhibitions and author of the history of world's fairs in the Encyclopædia Britannica and Compton Encyclopedia, was commissioned by Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. of New York City in 1959 to prepare the first feasibility studies for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Pittera was joined in his study by Austrian architect Victor Gruen (Inventor of the 'Shopping Mall'). The Eisenhower Commission ultimately awarded the world's fair bid to New York City against several major U.S. cities.[53]

Because the U.S. government withdrew its membership in the Bureau International des Expositions from 2002 to 2017,[54] Worlds Fair Nano is the first private effort in history to host a six-month World's Fair.[55] Worlds Fair Nano is organizing a series of mini-World's Fairs around the country called World's Fair Nano in cities like San Francisco[56] and New York City[57] in order to build excitement for the six month World's Fair, which Worlds Fair Nano hopes to organize within the decade.[when?]

The Philippines International Fair of 1953 is another non-BIE exposition. It featured participation from 12 nations (11 foreign plus the host Philippines). It was the first world exposition after World War 2 and the first ever in Asia.[58][59]

The Los Angeles World's Fair is another non-BIE effort.[60]

International Horticultural Exhibition[edit]

The BIE, since 1959[61] grants recognition to the International Horticultural Exhibitions (Category A1) approved by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) subject to it meeting certain criteria including being approved by the BIE general assembly.[62]

International Horticultural Exhibitions (upcoming in italics):

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]