U.S. President William Howard Taft attends Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on September 30, 1909.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 4/09/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8976
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On September 30, 1909, President William Howard Taft (1857-1930) attends the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. He visits many of the exhibits and delivers two speeches. He returns to the fair briefly on October 1, before heading to the Seattle Golf and Country Club for a game of golf.  

During the last week of September, a strong military presence was noted around Seattle. Four companies of the First Infantry arrived in town in preparation for Taft’s arrival. Seven years earlier, President William McKinley had been assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and no one wanted to see history repeat itself. The infantry would police the fair during Taft’s visit, along with Seattle police officers and A-Y-P guards.

Just after midnight on September 29, President Taft’s train pulled into King Street Station in downtown Seattle. He greeted the crowd and was whisked off to a brief reception at the Rainier Club before arriving at the Washington Hotel at 2 a.m. Another large crowd was on hand, and Taft was brought in through the women’s entrance, which was guarded by Secret Service men. Just as he stepped into the elevator, he paused and told the guards to wait. Taft had heard the yells of some Yale men in the men’s grill, and ran over to join them in some college cheers before going off to bed.

Touring with Taft

The next morning, Taft and his aide, Captain Archibald Butt, were ready to go by 9:15. They arrived by automobile at the A-Y-P at 9:45, and were driven directly onto the fairgrounds. The crowds were huge, and Taft waved to the throngs from the steps of the auditorium before reviewing a parade of nations that marched past. At 10:30, he began his tour of some of the buildings, moving between them by car.

The plan had been to have the president view only a few exhibits, but Taft was interested in seeing as much as he could and led everyone around at a rapid pace. In the Alaska Building he tried his hand at panning for gold, and also got to inspect the treasure cage filled with precious metal. At one point he was handed two gold nuggets, which he accepted and then handed to Captain Butt to hold for him. Throughout the tour Taft received all sorts of gifts, ranging from the largest apple in the Yakima exhibit to a gold enameled cloisonné vase from the Japan Building.

In the California Building, he downed a refreshing glass of orange juice, and tasted the wares at an olive booth, leaving the pit as a souvenir for the manager. Since Sacramento, California, was celebrating its Special Day, 10 crates of grapes were sent to the president’s rail car. Taft ended his morning tour at the New York Building, where he spoke at a luncheon. Afterwards he gave a speech in the Natural Amphitheatre where a group of children formed a “living flag.”

In the afternoon the fairgrounds tour continued. At the Arctic Brotherhood Building, the president received a degree making him an honorary Arctic Brother. The only mishap during the day occurred when Taft was stung on the neck by a bee while traveling in his car.

"Power of the People" and "Possibilities"

After a quick trip to his hotel to freshen up, Taft returned to the fairgrounds that evening for a grand banquet held in the Washington State Building. In his address, Taft spoke of the importance of Washington’s role in Pacific trade, and singled out Seattle as a great example of the “power of the people and the possibilities of development in the Northwest” ("City and Fair Gain Praises of President"). 

Taft Day was attended by 60,953 people, making it one of the most popular days of the fair. The next day, Taft took part in a parade in downtown Seattle, and was driven back to the fairgrounds to oversee the stock show. After reviewing a livestock parade in the stadium, he left for a round of golf at the Seattle Golf and Country Club, and then traveled on to Tacoma aboard a private yacht.


“Seattle Awaits the Arrival of President Taft,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, September 29, 1909, pp. 1, 9; “Ringing Cheers Greet President W. H. Taft’s Arrival in Seattle,” Ibid., September 30, 1909, pp. 1, 3; “Pauses When He Hears His College Yell,” Ibid., September 30, 1909, pp. 1, 3; “President Favors a Commission to Pass Laws for the North,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, pp. 1, 12; “City and Fair Gain Praises of President,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, pp. 1, 2, 5; “Says He Wants to See It All,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, p. 8; “School Children in a Living Flag,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, p. 8; “President Showered with Presents at Exposition,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, p. 9; “President Made an Arctic Brother,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, p. II-1; “President Taft Is Stung by Bee,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, p. II-1; “Sacramento Gives Fruit to President Taft,” Ibid., October 1, 1909, p. II-1; “President Sees Fancy Stock at Exposition Pens,” Ibid., October 2, 1909, pp. 1, 2.

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