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The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

by Lyndsey Blair, Curatororial Intern | Jun 03, 2015

AYP Gold_bricks from Scandinavian American Bank,_A-Y-P,_1909
Gold Bricks from Scandinavian American Bank inside A-Y-P’s Alaska Building

 In 1907, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle’s civic leaders decided to organize a world’s fair.  World’s fairs (or international expositions) played a prominent role in American and European society from the late nineteenth century until World War I.  These events provided fairgoers the chance to experience the latest cultural, educational, and technological trends from around the world.  Expos also offered host cities the opportunity to demonstrate their importance within the international community.  Seattle’s civic leaders used theirs to promote the city as a gateway to the resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. 

AYP Aerial_view_of_the_Alaska-Yukon-Pacific_Exposition_-_1909
Aerial View of A-Y-P Expo

Seattle’s world’s fair, officially known as the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P), opened on June 1, 1909.  Organizers rescheduled to avoid conflicting with the 1907 Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia.   This decision proved advantageous as it gave developers two extra years to plan the expo, which was held on the University of Washington’s campus.

A-Y-P was not only a celebration of Seattle’s recent growth but the development of the larger Pacific Northwest.  Several counties, territories, and states from this region had their own exhibits and/or buildings to educate three million fairgoers about their resources.  For example, the Alaska Building had information about the territory’s timber, whaling, and petroleum industries.  It also featured several gold displays, including a heavily fortified case with more than one million dollars in gold bricks, nuggets, and dust.

AYP Official_guide_to_the_Alaska-Yukon-Pacific_Exposition_-_Seattle,_Washington,_June_1_to_October_16,_1909_-_Cover
Official A-Y-P Guide Book with Logo

AYP Klondyke_Dance_Hall_and_saloon on Pay Streak,_A-Y-P,_1909
“Klondyke Dance Hall” on A-Y-P’s Pay Streak

Gold played an important role throughout the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.  For example, A-Y-P’s official logo featured a goddess holding gold nuggets.  Meanwhile, AYP Souvenir_Taft_Day_official_program_-_Front_cover
the fair’s midway (or entertainment zone) was called “The Pay Streak.”  This term is a mining reference to the location in a stream where gold has deposited.  Even President Taft got into the spirit (Pictured: “Taft Day Official Program” from A-Y-P Expo). During his two-day expo visit, the president mined for gold in the Alaska Building and also received an honorary Arctic Brotherhood degree.  The Arctic Brotherhood, a fraternal organization of Klondike gold- stampeders formed in 1899, played a large role in organizing the fair.  

A-Y-P officially ended on October 16, 1909.  While most of the expo’s buildings have since been demolished, the fair’s memory lives on. 

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