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.
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 more. (1)
A total of 828 special days, plus 966 special events, meant the average day was packed with about six extra events in addition to the regular lectures, movies, stunt flights, and musical entertainments. Added to that were whatever attractions individual exhibitors might offer. While some days held more and some fewer events, a daily multiplicity extended over the whole season.
Most special days marked a gathering at the Fair. The participants might have hailed from the same place, industry, convention, club, fraternal group, society, or school. Typically these groups would form into a parade that would be greeted at the gates by PPIE officials and a military regiment from the Presidio and escorted into the grounds.
Every California city and county, each state, and all the nations exhibiting at the Fair were accorded their own celebratory days, and each had special features.
San Francisco Day
“Everyone was there except the sick, and some of them came” is how the Fair’s official history described San Francisco Day, November 2, the anniversary of Don Gaspar de Portolá’s discovery of San Francisco Bay. Governor Hiram Johnson proclaimed a statewide holiday, businesses closed, and children were released from school. The upper crust was entreated to give servants the day off. (2)
Attendees were encouraged to pay separate admission rather than use their season tickets, and the San Francisco Day ticket had a decorative stub reading “I Paid,” designed to be worn on the lapel to proclaim civic pride and support. Businesses donated more than 30,000 drawing prizes for that day, including trinkets, phonographs, pianos, automobiles, and even a plot of land.
Chronicle publisher M. H. de Young hectored readers: “You who are careless, you who are indifferent, you who are willing to let somebody else do what you should do yourself, wake up for once in your life and do for yourself by going to the exposition tomorrow.” (3)
Whatever the inducement, San Franciscans responded in droves. Early comers flooded into the Fair to witness the colorful Pageant of Nations, produced by the states and countries participating in the PPIE. Highlights of the gala parade included a Hawaiian quintet playing from atop the territory’s float, a Viking ship presented by Norway, and California’s entry, with portrayals of Spanish padres, gold miners, and the California grizzly. Oregon’s entry was a big hit because of ten marchers in redwood tree costumes scampering about like animated logs.
Harness, airplane, and boat races, football, and the presentation of the Pacific Coast Baseball League pennant on the Marina satisfied sports fans. A spectacular sham battle in the stadium included yet another exploding model fort, with an exploding faux-torpedo boat in the bay thrown in. After the fireworks, the Civil War battle of the Monitor and Merrimac was enacted in the bay, providing yet more naval carnage.
Crowds were so thick that it was a struggle to see these many wonders or to find room on one of the many dance floors. When the turnstiles were locked for the night, they had turned 348,472 times, far surpassing any previous day’s attendance. While not as great in number as Chicago Day in 1893 (716,881 visitors) or St. Louis Day in 1904 (404,450), the Jewel City’s managers were nevertheless elated. They had drawn far more in terms of relative percentage. St. Louis had gleaned 57 percent of its city’s population, and Chicago 51 percent. San Francisco had captured fully 70 percent of its resident population.
Featured Image: People Gathered by the Shore on San Francisco Day, 1915. Courtesy of San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library. Historypin / Images from Mapping San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair
Laura A. Ackley holds graduate degrees from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. Her interest in the 1915 world’s fair began in an undergraduate “cultural landscapes” course at the University of California, Berkeley. Her Master of Science thesis at UC Berkeley was titled “Innovations in Illumination at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.” A recognized authority on the PPIE, she has developed a series of popular lectures on various aspects of the Fair, and frequently delivers her commentaries before historical, arts, and civic organizations.
(1) Frances A. Groff, “Sugar on the Candy,” Sunset (October 1915): 750.
(2) Frank Morton Todd, The Story of the Exposition, vol. 3 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921), 159 (see ch. 1, n. 2).
(3) “San Francisco Day at the Exposition,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 1, 1915, 14.
San Francisco Day November 2, 1915.
CHS’s exhibition about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition—City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair—is open until January 3, 2016 at CHS headquarters, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, and until January 10, 2016, at the Palace of Fine Arts.
City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair is part of San Francisco’s Centennial Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE100), presented by AT&T; www.ppie100.org . CHS is an organizing partner of the PPIE100 along with Innovation Hangar, the Maybeck Foundation, and the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department.