Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Renton Day, Washington Rural Letter Carriers Association Day, Seattle Business College Day, and Indiana Day on August 7, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 1/13/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8885
On August 7, 1909, Renton Day, Washington Rural Letter Carriers Association Day, Seattle Business College Day, and Indiana Day are celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the grounds of the University of Washington in Seattle. The exposition took place between June 1 and October 16, 1909, drawing more than three million people. Visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. Each day (except Sunday) of the A-Y-P was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups. Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again.  Renton Day has the day's biggest celebration, kicking off with an exciting steamboat race from Renton across Lake Washington to the A-Y-P, and attracting 2,500 people to the fair. Meanwhile, the Washington Rural Letter Carriers concludes its annual convention at the fair that day with speeches calling for more pay and less pennies; alumni of the Seattle Business College gather for baseball and dancing, and hundreds of Hoosiers come together just so they too can say they had their own special day at the A-Y-P. 

A Rousing Race   

Renton Day fell on a Saturday, which in 1909 was a work day for many. But no matter. Businesses closed and even the coal mines -- the town’s biggest industry -- suspended operations so all who wanted could go to the exposition.  The Renton line provided special streetcar service to the exposition beginning early in the morning, but the more adventurous crowded onto two steamboats, the Fortuna and the Urania, for a race to the fair. Each boat was loaded to capacity with 350 passengers. 

The race kicked off from the Renton docks, and as the boats motored north their passengers pressed close to the railings, cheering their crews on and jeering their adversaries in the opposing boat. By the time the two boats reached Leschi Park, the Fortuna was nearly a quarter mile ahead and its passengers were waving a mocking goodbye to those on the Urania. But then the Urania began gaining on its rival, and passed the Fortuna at the Madison Street wharf. The Urania reached the exposition grounds 100 yards in the lead, setting a record of 47 minutes for the 15-mile course from Renton to Seattle.

The Renton crowd, some 2,500 strong, queued up at the main gate and paraded through the grounds to the Natural Amphitheatre, where the Knights of Pythias charmed the crowd with the Pythian drill. Afterward the group broke for a two-hour basket lunch at Lakeside Park, then reassembled at 2 p.m. in the Auditorium for the day’s exercises. Director General Ira Nadeau welcomed the group; Judge Wilson R. Gay provided the response on behalf of Renton and talked about the virtues of youth. A drill by the Renton School Girls’ Drill Team brought the ceremonies to a happy conclusion.  

Penny Nuisance and Happy Hoosiers  

It was also Washington Rural Letter Carriers Association Day at the fair.  Some 250 mail carriers and their families met at the exposition gate at 10 a.m. and were escorted to the Washington State Building for their reception; at 2 p.m., the crew convened at the Good Roads Building for the final day of their annual convention. (The convention was a roving affair in 1909, having met on August 5 in Puyallup and August 6 in Tacoma.)  The letter carriers gave speeches calling for a salary increase from $900 to $1,200 a year, called for the government to improve rural roads, and decried the “penny nuisance.”  (In the early twentieth century many rural farmers, lacking a penny postage stamp to mail a letter, would simply place an unstamped letter and a penny in the mailbox, often forcing the mailman to spend valuable time and effort rooting about for the penny.)  

At 1 p.m. about 1,000 alumni of the Seattle Business College gathered at the Stadium to celebrate what was billed in the Post-Intelligencer as Seattle Business College Day.  An afternoon of races, a baseball game, and other sports followed.  At 7 p.m. the group gathered on the picnic grounds south of the Natural Amphitheatre for dinner, followed by a dance at 8:30 in the Washington State Building.

Indiana Day was also celebrated at the fair that Saturday, but in a departure from the other special days, there were no organized events scheduled in honor of Indiana Day, and there was no particular group effort made to celebrate the day. Instead hundreds of Hoosiers just showed up, wearing identifying nametags, and spent the day wandering the fair, seeking and in some cases finding old acquaintances and sampling the best that the A-Y-P Exposition had to offer. 

Sources: “Renton Declares Holiday And Sees Fair,” Seattle Daily Times, August 7, 1909, p. 1; “Urania Outruns Fortuna On Lake,” Ibid., August 7, 1909, p. 2;  “Letter Carriers’ Day At A.-Y.-P. Exposition,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 7, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 4; “Renton Takes Day Off at Exposition,” Ibid., August 8, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 4; “Good Roads and More Pay Sought,” Ibid., August 8, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 6.

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