Thank you for helping us celebrate the PPIE at 100

Dear Friends,

The Centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE100) is coming to an end this weekend with the closing of two major exhibitions in San Francisco: Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition at the de Young Museum, and the California Historical Society’s free exhibition City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair at the Innovation Hangar/Palace of Fine Arts.  ... Read More >

March Song, 1914 Words and Music by S. and P.I. Jacoby | Published by P.I. Jacoby | California Historical Society

The Performing Arts at San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair

The fair brought the performing arts to millions of people. Every day was packed with music, song, and dance. Live music was heard throughout the fairgrounds—from symphonies to marches. Many visitors had their first taste of foreign culture observing dances from Norway, Ireland, Japan, China, Mexico, Hawai‘i, and many other countries. At the fair, the old met the new—from ethnic and folk dances to ballet and modern dance.

This photo essay gives a hint of the daily and special attractions that excited and enthralled more than 19 million visitors to San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair.

The Festival Hall was located in the South Gardens amidst gardens, fountains, pools, and paths. The hall’s main auditorium was home to the 7,000-pipe, 40-ton Exposition Organ, the most advanced pipe organ in the world, which was built especially for the fair. There were a total of 368 organ recitals during the nine months of the fair. ... Read More >

As it happened – December 4, 2015

December 4, 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of closing day at the  Panama-Pacific International Exposition. To mark this momentous occasion, Donna Huggins, the official Spokesperson for the Centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition arranged for a final ceremony at the San Francisco Ferry Building, which has been adorned with “1915 lights” to mark the Centennial. Read more about this event in the San Francisco Chronicle, and view a slideshow of photos from the event online. ... Read More >

Ferry Building Tower “Lights Out” Event to Mark Centennial of Closing Day of 1915 World’s Fair

The Ferry Building Tower lights are going out. As part of the centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE100) the illuminated “1915” lights on top of San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building Tower will be extinguished to mark the exact date of the closing of the 1915 World’s Fair.

On Friday, December 4th beginning at 4:15 p.m. several hundred World’s Fair admirers, dignitaries and historians, many dressed in period attire, will be entertained by San Francisco ragtime singers as the lights atop the Ferry Building Tower are turned off, just as they were at the conclusion of the World’s Fair one hundred years ago. ... Read More >

December 4, 1915 – Closing Day at the PPIE

The festivities concluded with spectacular illuminations, a salvo of hundreds of fireworks, and pilot Art Smith trailing loops of flame across the sky over the Jewel City.

Nearly a half million people attended Closing Day of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition—the most fairgoers recorded for a single day of the fair’s nine months.

The following account was written by fair historian Laura A. Ackley and is excerpted from her book San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 (Berkeley: Heyday/California Historical Society, 2014). San Francisco’s Jewel City is a companion publication to the California Historical Society’s exhibition City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair and winner of the California Book Award, Gold Medal for Californiana. ... Read More >

“The Great Chums” on the Joy Zone, 1915 California Historical Society, PC-PA 190_001

“Bravely Useful Part”: Five Women and San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair

In the foreword to her book Problems Women Solved, Anna Pratt Simpson credited the “bravely useful part California’s women have played in the dreaming and the making of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.”

On December 3, we recognize the birthday anniversary of one such woman: Phoebe Apperson Hearst, one of California’s and the nation’s most prominent philanthropists. In addition to her wide-ranging support of education across the state, we recall her contributions—and those of four other women—to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Their participation in the fair—Hearst, twelve-year-old African American student Virginia Stephens, artist model Audrey Munson, fairgoer Alice Sue Fun, and African American journalist Delilah Beasley—and the issues they faced are the subject of a presentation by Erin Garcia, curator of CHS’s exhibition “City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair,” on December 3, 2015, at the California Historical Society. We offer this preview: ... Read More >

On this day – November 18, 1903: The United States Signs a Treaty to Build the Panama Canal

As early as the sixteenth century, nations sought passage by water through the Isthmus of Panama, a slim stretch of land bridging the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But it was not until 1881 that a French company headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had built the Suez Canal, began to dig a canal of similar construction across Panama. Plagued by engineering problems, tropical diseases, and scandal, in 1889 de Lessep’s company went bankrupt. ... Read More >

Helen Keller seated at right with mother, Kate Adams Keller, and Annie Sullivan (standing), 1914 Library of Congress

On this day: Helen Keller Day at the PPIE

Nearly 19 million people from all walks of life thronged through the turnstiles of San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair—young and old, men and women, ordinary and famous.

Among the celebrated fairgoers were the author Laura Ingalls Wilder, the horticulturist Luther Burbank, the inventors Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, former president Theodore Roosevelt, the escape artist Harry Houdini, and the educator/activist Helen Keller.

“Helen Keller is the eighth wonder of the world,” wrote her friend and the literary giant Mark Twain in his January 1901 journal entry. The social reformer Upton Sinclair called Keller “America’s most famous blind girl . . . who has come to see more than most people with normal eyes.” The planners of the fair surely agreed, for they designated November 6, 1915, Helen Keller Day. ... Read More >

On this day – A Day for San Francisco at the 1915 World’s Fair

Organizers of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)—nicknamed the Jewel City—designated November 2, 1915 as San Francisco Day. The following account was written by fair historian Laura A. Ackley and is excerpted from her book San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 (Berkeley/San Francisco: Heyday/California Historical Society, 2014), the companion publication to the California Historical Society’s exhibition City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair and winner of the California Book Award, Gold Medal for Californiana. The accompanying photographs are from the San Francisco History Room, San Francisco Public Library.

Special Days

Panama-Pacific International Exposition management packed the Fair’s calendar with parades, pageants, sporting events, drills, demonstrations, and “special days.” No day was without something extra—a speech, a parade, a competition, or a ceremony.

Organizers wanted to maintain interest, especially among locals, by offering fresh experiences throughout the Fair. “Not only must there be ‘something doing every minute,’ but something doing in a hundred different places,” said Sunset magazine. Each of the 288 days of the Fair was designated a “special day” in recognition of something—in fact, usually several somethings. To accommodate the requisite honors and activities, every day had to do double, triple, quadruple duty or ... Read More >

Image credit: San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker is set right here in San Francisco in 1915, and featured many details inspired by the PPIE. This year’s Nutcracker is one of the final official events of the PPIE100 celebration, and the California Historical Society is partnering with SF Ballet to produce a mini-exhibition in the War Memorial Opera House, featuring the colorful performing arts at the PPIE. Read more about how the PPIE inspired the production on the SF Ballet blog.

Join the SF Ballet as the lights dim, music soars, history comes alive, and a little girl dreams about a whole new world in in a uniquely San Francisco Nutcracker!

Buy tickets today at

Image credit: San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson) ... Read More >