Panama-Pacific International Exposition

  • Nut_Inspiration_PPIE_VintagePoster.jpg

    Postcard showing the new buildings among earthquake ruins and buildings from the exposition (the two buildings on the bottom). Created by Edward H. Mitchell c. 1911.
    Public Domain
  • PPIE_PalaceofHorticulture.jpg

    One of the exhibits inside the Palace of Horticulture was a pineapple stand, where visitors could enjoy Hawaiian music.
    Public Domain
  • PPIE_Fireworks.jpg

    The hour-long fireworks show took place every three nights at the Exposition.
    Image source: Project Gutenberg EBook, Artificial Light by M. Luckiesh
  • PPIE_PalaceFineArts.jpg

    The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful reminder of the wonders of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
    Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) was a spectacular nine-month World’s Fair that took place in San Francisco near the Presidio, a former military base located on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. It was a celebration of the newly completed Panama Canal, and also a way for the United States to showcase what it had to offer to the world. The World’s Fair was a great opportunity for people of all nations to exchange ideas, experience different cultures, and get a unique look at the products and innovations of the future. For the city of San Francisco, it was a moment of celebration to show off its new splendor after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire less than a decade earlier.

You could think of the Exposition as a fair you might have experienced in your hometown, with fun games, food, music, and a carousel. However, the Exposition of 1915 was much more than that. The “fair” was more like a fantastic international city stretching three miles within San Francisco, with exhibitions from Sweden, Bolivia, Japan, France, Persia, and Cuba just to name a few. A grand total of 31 nations were represented at the Exposition, proudly showcasing the best from their homeland. Many US states came to San Francisco to set up exhibitions as well, and happy visitors could explore what states all across the country had to offer. Throughout the exposition were gigantic, artistic buildings, impressive columns, replicas of world-renowned sites (like the Greek Parthenon), murals, and various exhibits showcasing dance and culture from around the world.

The Exposition was grand in every possible way. Below are some quick facts to give you an idea of the grandeur of the fair:

  • Cost for construction : $50 million
  • Cost of the objects exhibited : $50 million
  • Number of visitors on opening day : 255,149
  • Number of total visitors : 18,876,438
  • Number of statues : 1,500

In the year 1915, cars were still very rare, very few people could say they had traveled on an airplane, and landline telephones were a luxury as cell phones weren’t invented yet! Imagine being a visitor during that time, strolling through the avenues of the Exposition and seeing all the newest technologies and contraptions, from airplanes to motion pictures, and cow milking machines!

You can still get a glimpse of the Exposition and its atmosphere if you visit the Palace of Fine Arts, which is the only original building from the Exposition that has remained in the original site of the World’s Fair. The beautiful building has been restored so you can experience it as a visitor might have seen it back in 1915.