Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opens in Seattle on June 1, 1909.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 3/24/2009
  • Essay 8965
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On June 1, 1909, close to 80,000 people attend opening day of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, held on the University of Washington campus 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.

Getting In  

The gates of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened promptly at 8:30 on the morning of Tuesday, June 1, 1909. The skies were cloudy, but that didn’t bother the thousands of people who were already lined up.  Many held season passes, which were sold before the fair opened.

Streetcars operated by the Seattle Electric Company pulled up to the gates almost continuously.  Streetcars from downtown ran along the Eastlake route at a rate of one every 30 seconds. The Wallingford line arrived once a minute, and the Madrona and Broadway runs pulled in every five minutes.  

There were 42 coin-operated turnstiles at the gates, each operated by a guard. Only one turnstile was designated for use by those with passes. The eccentric Robert Patten, known as the “Umbrella Man,” showed up in his umbrella hat carrying Season Pass No. 13. Young Al Rochester, whose mother represented Washington in a singing competition at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, flashed his pass, and ran to his job operating a bread-slicer at one of the restaurants on the Pay Streak. The concession lasted all of two days, but Al, as an employee, got a free pass to the fair and attended almost every day that summer.

This turnstile was also used by exposition officials such as Henry Broderick, who at 29 was the youngest A-Y-P trustee. Broderick was prominent in real estate, and was instrumental in acquiring property for the Union Pacific Railroad. Washington Equal Suffrage Association President Emma Smith DeVoe (1848-1927) paid 50 cents to get in, as did Seattle Socialist leader Dr. Herman F. Titus. Mary Brown of Tacoma, state superintendent of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, showed up at the gates with her cohorts, ready to patrol the grounds and guard young women from mashers and ne’er-do-wells.  

When Seattle Chief of Police Irving Ward showed up in full dress uniform, one gatekeeper didn’t recognize him, and refused to allow him in. Ward sputtered, and told him that as police chief, he didn’t have to pay to get in. The gatekeeper stood firm, until Ward threatened to arrest him, at which point he backed down and let the chief in, free of charge. Since the turnstiles were coin-operated, Ward had to jump the gate.

Edmund A. Smith (1870-1909) looked forward to opening day, and to showing off the invention that made him wealthy. Six years earlier, Smith patented an automated salmon cleaning machine that could clean fish 55 times faster than human workers. Since many Northwest cannery workers were Chinese immigrants, Smith unabashedly named his invention the Iron Chink, and it revolutionized the canning industry. The machine was on display at the A-Y-P., but Smith never got there. On his way to the fair, the gasoline tank on Smith's car exploded and he died in the fire.  

Walking and Talking

Exhibit buildings and amusements along the Pay Streak were told to stay closed until after the noon opening ceremonies. Most people wandered around enjoying the architecture, but some made their way into the Spokane Building. Spokane officials claimed "they couldn’t help it," and opened their doors ahead of time to ease the pressure of the waiting crowd.  

At 9:30, a military parade began at the southern end of the fairgrounds leading toward the Geyser Basin, the pool and high-spouting fountain around which the main buildings, called the Court of Honor, were arranged. At this focal point of the fair, high officers reviewed members of the United States Army and Navy, and also the Imperial Japanese Navy, which had been invited to participate.

Exposition promoters were proud to have officers and sailors of the Japanese Navy in attendance. Days before, folks in downtown Seattle marveled at the two fighting ships -- the Aso and the Soya -- moored in Elliott Bay. Both vessels were Russian cruisers salvaged by Japan after the Russo-Japanese War, whose conclusion in 1905 had been mediated by the United States. The Soya had been built in Philadelphia.  

After the military parade, the crowd moved next to the amphitheater for opening ceremonies. Patriotic music spilled over the crowd. After an invocation and opening speeches, railroad magnate James J. Hill (1838-1916) delivered the keynote address. Hill noted that until very recently the Pacific Northwest had been considered remote and isolated from the rest of the nation. He described the two events that were primarily responsible for its subsequent growth and development: the transcontinental railroad and the discovery of great riches in Alaska. But rather than look back at past accomplishments, Hill commended Northwesterners for their spirit of progress, and termed the exposition "The Fair that Faces Forward."

It Officially Begins  

Promptly at noon, fair president John Chilberg (1867-1954) announced that he was about to notify President Taft (1857-1930), who stood at the ready in the East Room of the White House, that the fair could begin. Taft would officially open the fair by pressing a telegraph key encrusted with nuggets from the mine of George Carmack, whose discovery had started the Klondike Gold Rush. As the audience waited for Taft to press the key, a telegram from the president was read aloud.

Bishop Frederick W. Keator read the benediction, and just as he was about to finish, Taft’s signal came through. Cannons fired at the lakefront, and a large gong at the back of the platform rang out. All eyes looked up at the gigantic flag that had been close-furled between two large fir trees behind the stage. The flag unfurled and the crowd erupted with cheers. Hundreds of high-school students sitting in reserved seats in the front row pulled out small flags they had been told to conceal and began to wave them wildly while singing "America." After they finished singing, the crowd cheered for more than five minutes.

Meanwhile, another historic event was taking place back east. At the same moment that President Taft pressed the golden key in the White House, five automobiles in New York started their engines for a transcontinental race across America. A sixth car left New York a few days later. One month earlier, a pathfinder car had made its way across the country, looking for the best route for the Itala, Shawmut, Acme, Stearns, and two Model T Fords that were entered in the race. Traveling the eastern half of the United States would be relatively easy, as there were plenty of roads. But the road-poor Rocky Mountains guaranteed that the latter stages of the race would be a grind.

After the opening ceremonies, the crowds dispersed to take in the sights, while the dignitaries attended a luncheon at the New York State Building. Originally, the luncheon was scheduled to be held at the Washington State Building, but a majority of state commissioners disallowed the event, insisting that the building should be open to the public at all times, and not closed for a certain few. Governor Marion E. Hay and other officials were upset that New York had to act as host for Washington’s fair, but grumblingly abided by the decision. Most dignitaries who visited A-Y-P were feted in the New York Building.  

Opening Day Jitters

Many folks were hoping to see the dirigible "A-Y-P" take to the air, and close to 3,000 people gathered near the stadium at 3 p.m. to witness its launch, but pilot James C. "Bud" Mars, who won first prize with the ship at the 1907 International Race in St. Louis, couldn’t get the gasoline engine to start. Disappointed, the crowd wandered off to see what else the fair had to offer.  

Another mishap occurred when 3-year-old Beatrice Bergeron of Seattle fell into the Geyser Basin, where she had dropped her rubber ball. This happened out of sight of the girl’s mother, who was transfixed by one of the concert bands. Fortunately, Walter Hendrickson of Walla Walla happened to see the child fall, and dove into the pond to save her.

Exposition officials were astonished that no reports of robbery or pickpocket activity were made on opening day. There was only one arrest, when A-Y-P Exposition Chief of Police Charles Wappenstein (1853-1931) pinched a huckster who was trying to sell bogus stock in the exposition airship. The biggest task that exposition police dealt with was reuniting lost children with their parents.  

At 8 p.m. in the Auditorium Building, the Schubert Club held a concert featuring the noted Russian baritone, Albert Janpolski. At the moment the first song ended, all the lights in the building went out. After spending 15 minutes in the dark, the choir quietly sang "My Country ‘Tis of Thee" until it was announced that the concert would be rescheduled for later in the week. The audience slowly exited the darkened building, only to discover that it was pouring rain.

To escape the deluge, almost everyone on the fairgrounds made a mad scramble to the exits. The first bottleneck came at the turnstiles, and the second came at the streetcar terminals. The Seattle Electric Company had scheduled cars to arrive on a swift and regular basis, but they weren’t prepared for tens of thousand of people to leave en masse.  

Some people who were leaving the fairgrounds got a shocking experience when they crossed the lawn in front of the King County Building: A nearby power wire had become grounded because of the heavy rain, and current flowed through the soaked earth, effectively electrifying the grass. The power was shut off to all buildings around the Arctic Circle until the defective wire could be found. The short caused a small fire inside the south wall of the King County Building, but it was extinguished before it could do much harm.

The rainfall also doused the fireworks show that had been planned as the day's crowning finish.  

Attendance on the first day was close to 80,000 people, and officials stated that it would have been higher had the weather been more agreeable.


“Complete Exposition Opens at Noon,” The Seattle Times, June 1, 1909, pp. 1, 2; “Cheers When Taft Opens A.-Y.-P. E.,” Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 2; “Everybody Takes in Seattle’s Big Fair,”  Ibid.,  June 1, 1909, p. 2; “Thousands Cheer Soldiers and Sailors,”  Ibid.,  June 1, 1909, p. 2; “Autos Start in Long Race,”  Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 2; “Opening Banquet Feature of Night,”  Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 3; “Hundreds Want Passes to Fair,”  Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 4; “Our Japanese Visitors,”  Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 6; “Japanese Guests Given Rousing Reception,”  Ibid.,  June 1, 1909, p. 12; “State’s Building Refused for Luncheon,”  Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 12; “Masher Had Better be Careful With Whom He Flirts At Fair,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 1, 1909, p. 10; “First Day’s Attendance Close to 90,000 People,”  Ibid.,  June 2, 1909, pp. 1, 4; “President Taft Flashes Signal on Golden Key,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, pp. 1, 2; “Rain Causes a Mad Stampede for Cars,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. 4; “Gatekeeper did not Know Chief Ward,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. 5; “Only One Arrest Made on Exposition Grounds,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. 5; “Light Go Out at Schubert Concert ,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. 1; “Rescues Little Girl in Sight of Crowd,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. II-3; “Seattle Electric Handles 70,000,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. II-4; “Little Incidents of the Opening Day,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. II-4; “Spokane Building Forced by Crowd to Open First,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. II-4; “Electrified Lawn is Freak not on Program,”  Ibid., June 2, 1909, p. II-5; “Auto Victim Dies of Burns,” The Seattle Times, June 2, 1909, pp. 1, 2; “Concert Marred by Failure of Lights,” The Seattle Times, June 2, 1909, p. 3; “The Fair That Faces Forward,” The Seattle Times, June 2, 1909, p. 6.
Note: Edmund Smith's birth year was corrected on December 18, 2013.

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