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Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

aka Seattle World's Fair

official seal of the Seattle World's Fair

The A-Y-P-E (as it was popularly known) was held June 1 - October 16, 1909 to publicize development of the Pacific Northwest. Originally planned for 1907 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, it was rescheduled for 1909 to avoid conflict with the Jamestown Exposition. It was attended by about 3.7 million people, and was the first world's fair to make a profit.

The idea of Seattle hosting a world's fair began with Goldfrey Chealander, Grand Secretary of the Arctic Brotherhood, who had been involved in the Alaska Territory exhibit at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon, in 1905. Chealander approached William Sheffield of the Alaska Club and James A. Wood, city editor of the Seattle Times, about building a permanent Alaska exhibit in Seattle, an idea which meshed with Wood's desire for Seattle to host its own exposition. The three men got backing from Times publisher Alden J. Blethen, and the group subsequently obtained an endorsement from the State Legislature. Because the original Klondike gold strike had been in Canada, the organizers called the venture Alaska-Yukon Exposition; "Pacific" was added to the general theme to emphasize Seattle's importance in Oriental trade.

The site chosen for the exposition was the grounds of the then-fledgling University of Washington, and the State of Washington's financial contribution was limited to construction of buildings that would subsequently be incorporated into the university. The Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, were contracted to design the layout and landscaping for the grounds, and they oriented the fair's main avenue so that it pointed toward Mount Rainier, which can be seen from the site.

bird's-eye view of the fair

Every U.S. state, as well as the territories of Hawaii and the Philippines, were represented at the exposition, as were several Pacific Rim nations; Japan and Canada were the only foreign nations to erect entire buildings, however. The King County Exhibit included a scale model of a coal mine and dioramas of Seattle scenes, and the U.S. Government Building displayed a variety of artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, including the desk at which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The Woman's Building emphasized the role of women in pioneering the West and in current charity work. The exposition also featured reenactments of the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac, as well as a dirigible which flew over both the fairgrounds and Seattle throughout the fair's duration. Special days were set aside throughout the fair's run to honor specific states, organizations, causes, and more, including: Smith Day (for people with that last name), the Sweddish-Finnish Temperance Association, coal miners, railway men, the Baptist Young People's Union, the Seattle Real Estate Association, and one for people who once lived in Kansas.

The architecture of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition is still evident on the University of Washington campus, as the main axis of the exposition remains the central axis of the current campus. In addition, two of the original fair buildings are still in use today -- the Fine Arts Palace became the chemisty building (and is now Architecture Hall), and the Woman's Building is now Cunningham Hall (where women's studies classes are held).

Jamestown Exposition
Mount Rainier
Thomas Jefferson

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The Robinson Library >> Exhibitions, Trade Shows, World's Fairs, Etc.

This page was last updated on 07/08/2018.