The A-Y-P Expo

Another book excerpt from Northern Light Media

This is an excerpt from The Stained Glass Dog Team, The Enduring Mystery Behind a Craftsman’s Contribution to the History of Seattle, by Helen Hegener, published in 2014 by Northern Light Media. Presented to subscribers of the free Alaskan History Magazine newsletter.


“It was the golden age of expositions, or world fairs . . . .”

As noted in the 1907 Dawson Daily News article, the Alaska Club was in large part responsible for the remarkable extravaganza known as the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, which took place on the then still largely forested campus of the University of Washington. The A-Y-P Exposition, as it became known, was designed to showcase the city of Seattle as the up-and-coming commercial center of the Pacific coast.

It was the golden age of expositions, or World Fairs, which had begun in 1851 with the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. The Great Exhibition, as it became known, was the brainchild of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, and it set the precedent for many subsequent international exhibitions, later called world's fairs.

The Great Exhibition, which took place from May to October, 1851, was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot and Alfred Tennyson. Queen Victoria and her family visited three times. Although the Great Exhibition was a platform on which countries from around the world could display their achievements, Great Britain sought to prove its own superiority. The British exhibits at the Great Exhibition "held the lead in almost every field where strength, durability, utility and quality were concerned, whether in iron and steel, machinery or textiles."

The magnificent Crystal Palace, also called "The Great Shalimar," was a massive glass house, emphasized inside with huge trees and statues, which served to add beauty to the spectacle while demonstrating man's triumph over nature. The Crystal Palace was an enormous success, considered an architectural marvel and an engineering triumph. The building was later moved and re-erected in south London, but was destroyed by fire in 1936.

The Chicago World's Fair, held in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival in the New World, covered more than 600 acres and featured nearly 200 buildings of predominantly neoclassical architecture, canals, lagoons, and people and cultures from 46 countries. Boasting an iconic centerpiece pool which represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World, the fair was an influential social and cultural event, and it had a profound effect on architecture, sanitation, the arts, Chicago's self-image, and American industrial optimism. More than 27 million people attended the exposition during its six-month run. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world fairs, and it became a symbol of the emerging American Exceptionalism, a belief that the United States was qualitatively different from other nations.

In 1904, St. Louis hosted a World's Fair to celebrate the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the largest fair to date with over 1,500 buildings, connected by some 75 miles of roads and walkways, on the 1,200 acre site. Sixty-two foreign nations sponsored exhibits, along with forty-three of the then-forty-five U.S. states. It was said to be impossible to give even a hurried glance at everything in less than a week; the Palace of Agriculture alone covered some 20 acres.

The 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, held in Portland, Oregon, and featuring exhibits from 21 countries, attracted over 1.6 million visitors from around the world during the exposition's four-month run.

Founded in 1845, Portland had grown into a major economic center, due in part to three transcontinental railroads, the Northern, the Southern, and the Union Pacific, which used Portland as their Pacific coast terminus. With seemingly endless old-growth forests, Oregon led the nation in timber production, and Portland had the largest flour mill on the Pacific coast. Oregon's shipping industry was growing apace, with a $1.5 million project to dike and dredge the Columbia River. Riding this progress, the population of the state grew from thirteen thousand in 1850 to over four hundred thousand in 1900, a three thousand percent increase, at a time when the nation as a whole only registered one third that level of growth.

A nationwide economic slump at the end of the nineteenth century spurred plans to boost Oregon’s economy, and some of Portland’s wealthiest and most powerful men began working together to create an international exposition of unprecedented grandeur. The resulting Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition was not, in reality, designed to commemorate the famed cross- country journey. The organizers reportedly had little interest in the historical heroes and their 2,000-mile trek; their inspiration was the vision of Pacific trade which had motivated the exploration and later settlement of the Oregon Territory.

In the following five years the city's population increased by over 100,000 people, growth which was attributed to the exposition and did not go unnoticed by its neighbor to the north, Seattle. As the succession of expositions and world's fairs took place following the great popularity of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Seattle civic boosters, noting the tremendous success of the Portland event, developed plans for such a fair in their Puget Sound city, with an eye toward promoting the region's economic and cultural ties to Alaska, the Canadian Northwest, and the Pacific Rim.

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened on June 1, 1909, on the largely undeveloped grounds of the University of Washington. As visitors passed through the fair they marveled at exhibits such as the desk where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, George Washington's eyeglasses, facsimiles of many important documents, machinery for coining money, an army wagon from Sherman's march to the sea, an operational lighthouse, model locomotives, and a large exhibit documenting the history of photography.

A popular display at the Alaska building was the more than $1 million in gold nuggets, dust, and ingots inside a heavily fortified case which was lowered through the floor to an underground vault at the end of each day. Alaskan wildlife was on display, along with a fish-canning exhibit, and timber, whaling, and mining displays.

There was the finale of a transcontinental auto race, a reenactment of the Civil War battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac, and displays showcasing the “Streets of Cairo,” “On the Yukon,” and the “Gold Camps of Alaska.”

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was a resounding success. Over eighty thousand people visited on opening day, and more than three million people visited the fair before its gates closed in October; it was the first World's Fair to turn a profit.


This is an excerpt from The Stained Glass Dog Team, The Enduring Mystery Behind a Craftsman’s Contribution to the History of Seattle, by Helen Hegener, published in 2014 by Northern Light Media. Presented to subscribers of the free Alaskan History Magazine newsletter.