The 1915 Panama-California Exposition

Photo of the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Panama-California Exposition

The opening of the Panama Canal was an event that was expected to usher in a new era of growth and prosperity for the West Coast. As such, San Diego’s leaders began to plan a grand exposition to advertise San Diego as the first U.S. port of call for ships traveling westward through the Panama canal. The 1915 Panama-California Exposition not only helped elevate San Diego’s international profile, but it also led to the development one of San Diego’s most treasured resources, Balboa Park.

Of course, there was another historic treasure of San Diego that was designed and  built for the 1915 Exposition. John D. Spreckels had already donated the first $100,000 (nearly $2.5 million in today’s dollars) to kick off the fundraising drive for the development of the Exposition site, but he knew that they would also need to facilitate transportation for this event. Spreckels directed the engineers of his San Diego Electric Railway Company to design a special new streetcar to carry patrons to and from the Exposition. Homer MacNutt and Abel A. Butterworth drafted the designs for the Class 1 streetcar, a new model that combined the strengths of previous streetcar designs and uniquely refashioned them with the mild climate of San Diego in mind. These cars would serve both the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935 during their 1912-1939 run in San Diego. You can read more about the history of our Class 1 streetcars over at our website.

Recently our organization acquired a number of original antique items from both of the Expositions and we thought we’d share some photos with you all here! We’ve got a few postcards, souvenir tickets, an original menu, commemorative coins, and even medals from the groundbreaking ceremony of 1911. In the photo above you can actually see the men who wore those very medals! [1] Take a look at the slideshow below to get a glimpse of our collected turn-of-the-century relics.

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