Overfair Railway Inventor Louis M. MacDermot

Louis MacDermot with his Switching Engine at the incomplete Tower of Jewels

Louis MacDermot with his Switching Engine at the incomplete Tower of Jewels

The Overfair Railway, a one-of-a-kind miniature railroad, ran between Fort Mason and The Presidio in 1915 San Francisco. It had been designed and built by Oakland inventor Louis M. MacDermot to provide transportation within the 635-acre Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). MacDermot’s life is a riches-to-rags story of a man obsessed by all things mechanical. His steam locomotives continue to operate today at the volunteer-run Swanton Pacific Railroad in Davenport, near Santa Cruz, California. ... 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.

(Left) Festival Hall, 1915 Cardinell-Vincent Company | Collection of the Seligman Family Foundation (Right) Organist Playing the Great Exposition Organ, 1915 Photographer unknown | Collection of Edward A. Rogers

(Left) Festival Hall, 1915
Cardinell-Vincent Company | Collection of the Seligman Family Foundation
(Right) Organist Playing the Great Exposition Organ, 1915
Photographer unknown | Collection of Edward A. Rogers

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 >

December 4, 1915 – Closing Day at the PPIE

Closing Day at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915 Collection of Donna Ewald Huggins

Closing Day at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915
Collection of Donna Ewald Huggins

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 >

“The California Sandwich,” 1915 San Diego History Center

On this day: November 20, 1915 – Los Angeles Day

Thousands of Angelenos poured into San Francisco for Los Angeles Day at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE) on November 20, 1915. Special trains ran between Los Angeles and San Francisco, including one trip organized by the Los Angeles Times with General Harrison Grey Otis, the paper’s publisher, on board. Though it was located in San Francisco, the PPIE had been a ten-month boost to Los Angeles as people and exhibitions flowed between the two cities. With fourteen days of the fair remaining, Angelenos were eager for one final “boost” for the Southland.

LATimes_Train - Copy

“Going to the Fair,” Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1915
Proquest Historical Database: Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Day started at 11:00am at the Court of the Universe with customary welcome remarks by San Francisco Mayor James Rolph Jr. and Los Angeles Mayor Charles Sebastian that included the exchange of a commemorative bronze medal. In his exposition address, L.A.’s General F. C. Prescott announced:

As the great exposition draws to a close, we of Los Angeles come to you with our vision. It is that the triumph of art here exhibited shall in replica and in miniature furnish inspiration in every school and household, and every improvement in ... Read More >

Subframe #03 – S1 Ep3 – Oakland Sunshine

In this episode we learn how the PPIE’s “Jewel City” was named by a young African American girl named Virginia Stephens. This story is brought to light by the work of journalist and historian Delilah Beasley, who was writing at the time of the PPIE. We were inspired to tell this story because it demonstrates the power of naming, as it highlights Beasley’s larger efforts to insert Black history into early California narratives. Anecdotally, We begin with the naming of California, a story that Beasley connects to a larger history of Black Californians. ... Read More >

(Left to right) The Self-Proclaimed Vagabonds: Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone, 1918; The Henry Ford Collection

Adventures of the “Vagabonds”

A “vagabond,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a person without a permanent home who moves from place to place: wanderer. A tramp, vagrant.” This is hardly the word to describe three of the early twentieth-century’s titans of industry:  Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone, but it’s the name the three adopted, along with naturalist John Burroughs, as they toured the United States by automobile between 1914 and 1924.

With the invention of Ford’s Model T, cars became increasingly affordable to Americans who took to the highways for leisure. The road trip we take for granted today was completely new then—an adventure on rough roads in often unchartered territory. Despite the hardships involved, it captured the American spirit and offered middle class people free and open access to the kind of travel only the wealthy had known. ... Read More >

On This Day – September 9

On this day in 1915 the Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrated California Admission Day – 65 years after California joined the Union. The biggest parade the state had ever seen assembled at the Ferry Building. It was five miles long, and took three hours to pass into the fairgrounds. ... Read More >

On this day – August 19

On Thursday, August 19, the PPIE celebrated Manhattan Day. The celebration was hosted at the New York City Pavilion – the only municipal building at the fair.  The Commissioner-General of the Netherlands presented borough president Marcus Marks a New Amsterdam flag which was promptly run up the flagpole. ... Read More >

Venice Union Polytechnic High School Travels to the San Francisco 1915 World Fair

Venice Union Polytechnic High School located in Venice, California traveled north to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition through the medium of film and presented itself to the world.

Recently, the Venice High School Alumni Association found among its archives a June 1915 school publication that carried an article of a “moving picture” of the school being shown at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco. No other documentation was found in the archives, let alone the film itself.

The film was produced at the invitation of the PPIE Department of Education on the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools. The project was undertaken by the English Department resulting in two reels of film of 1,100 feet each. It was then contributed to the exhibit of California High Schools and shown in the theater of the Palace of Education. ... Read More >