Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Synopsis

When the more than 18 million visitors poured into the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco in 1915, they encountered a vision of the world born out of San Francisco's particular local political and social climate. By seeking to please various constituent groups ranging from the government of Japan to local labor unions and neighborhood associations, fair organizers generated heated debate and conflict about who and what represented San Francisco, California, and the United States at the world's fair. The PPIE encapsulated the social and political tensions and conflicts of pre–World War I California and presaged the emergence of San Francisco as a cosmopolitan cultural and economic center of the Pacific Rim.
Empress San Francisco offers a fresh examination of this, one of the largest and most influential world's fairs, by considering the local social and political climate of Progressive Era San Francisco. Focusing on the influence exerted by women, Asians and Asian Americans, and working-class labor unions, among others, Abigail M. Markwyn offers a unique analysis both of this world's fair and the social construction of pre–World War I America and the West.

Excerpt

On a cool morning in late February 1915, 150,000 people massed in downtown San Francisco to participate in the parade celebrating the grand opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). Local newspapers lauded the democratic nature of the event. The San Francisco Chronicle noted, “It was the people’s day” since the people of San Francisco and California had built the exposition with their own funds, imbuing the event with true “San Francisco spirit.” Yet fair officials scripted this seemingly democratic display carefully delineating meeting places and the order of march for participating groups. Once en route, however, the parade was out of the officials’ control. This apparent contradiction reveals much about the PPIE. Although fair planners carefully planned the exposition, the fair could not exist without the millions of local residents and tourists who spilled onto the fairgrounds for sixteen hours a day during its nine-month run. Nor could the fair succeed without the cooperation of foreign governments, federal officials, and national and international business interests. Together, these varied interests created the fair.

Outside the gates of the fair, social and political conflicts wracked the nation. The newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) boycotted the immensely popular white supremacist film Birth of a Nation. Woman suffragists advocated for a federal suffrage amendment. Young women worked in ever-larger numbers outside the home, while their fearful parents worried about the rumored rings of white slavers sweeping the nation. Labor leaders clung to the gains they had made in the past decades. The growing antiimmigrant movement angered foreign leaders who resented American restrictions on immigration. American businessmen and missionaries in China worked to convince officials to cooperate with American interests. At home, newspapers published ever more serious reports about the war . . .

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