The convent that took over the old country mansion on the hill overlooking the Seine in 1651 at the prompting of Henriette-Marie de France, the widow of the executed English king Charles I, was abandoned by them in 1789.
On 31 August 1794 the gunpowder factory at Grenelle on the left bank of the Seine exploded with such force that a wing of the palace collapsed. This was France’s most murderous industrial accident, officially killing 536 people but likely to have killed or wounded up to 1,360. The whole palace was then demolished.
The square after which the new palace was named in 1823 followed the capture of the Spanish fortified Trocadero island outside Cadiz, when Louis VIII sent French troops to help put down a revolt against the Spanish Bourbon monarchy.
Through the first half of the 19th century at least 5 major projects were proposed for the site but none realised. Then the hill was flattened for the Universal Exhibition of 1867.
This became a National Guard post during the Commune. Around 1,200 Communard soldiers were killed or captured when Versaillais troops took the battery of canons there on 21 May 1871. From there big artillery pieces were then used to shell the Batignolles and Madeleine areas two days later.
In 1878 the Trocadero Palace was built on the hill for that year’s International Exhibition and this was then extended to become the Palais de Chaillot for the 1937 event.
After the German occupation of Paris in June 1940 a resistance group was created among the staff of the Humanity Museum (Musée de l’Homme) based since 1937 in the Chaillot Palace, producing an underground paper, Résistance. Its anti-fascist director, Paul Rivet, posted Rudyard Kipyard’s poem, If, on the Museum’s front door.
The museum’s librarian, Yvonne Oddon, was instrumental in launching the resistance network, which helped several prisoners of war to escape and provided information on German troop movements.
During this period the group was joined by others outside the museum, including Germaine Tillion, who took over leadership of the network after February 1941, when nearly all of its members were denounced, arrested and ten sentenced to death. While her husband was executed, Oddon and two other women had their sentences suspended and they were deported to German concentration camps.
Immediately after the Second World War, on 25 September 1945, the Palais de Chaillot was the venue for the first congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions, bringing together trade union delegates from 56 countries.
It was next the venue for two sessions of the newly-created United Nations. The 3rd session of the General Assembly took place here from September to December 1948, and the 6th from November 1951 to February 1952.
The Universal Movement for a World Confederation founded in August 1947 in Switzerland campaigned powerfully in Paris during the famous UN 3rd Session. Garry Davis, a former US pilot who announced he had abandoned American nationality in favour of World Citizenship, was visited at his tent outside the Palais de Chaillot by Sartre, Breton, l’abbé Pierre, Gide and many other left celebrities. André Gorz moved to Paris in June 1949 to work in the international secretariat of the Movement for World Citizenship.
On 10 December 1948 this was where the United National General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man. 50 countries voted in favour. Six abstained: Saudi Arabia, opposing gender equality, South Africa, opposing racial equality, while the Soviet Union alongside Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, opposed its definition of universality. Honduras and Yemen did not participate in the vote.