Panama-Pacific International Exposition Medal
Title: Medal, Commemorative, Panama-Pacific International Exposition/1915 San Francisco World's Fair
Accession #: NHHC 1989-122-AL
Location: Headquarters Artifact Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command
One circular bronze medal from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The obverse is embossed “In / Commemoration / Panama-Pacific / International / Exposition / San Francisco.” The reverse is engraved “United States / Navy / Nov. 26.” A wreath of laurel and oak branches borders the engraving. A scrolling ribbon at the base of the branches bears the date 1915.
In the tradition of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, CA was a world’s fair to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914. The overall theme was significant to the US Navy, as the Panama Canal completion provided a means for ships to more easily cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The Canal began as a French engineering venture in 1881. Due to high mortality rates of the workers and massive overspending, by 1894 the French had lost their appetite for the difficulties of creating the canal. At the outbreak of war with Spain in 1893, the USS Oregon (Battleship No. 3) was ordered from her homeport in the Pacific to join the Atlantic fleet. She undertook a record-breaking dash from San Francisco, CA, around the tip of South America, to Key West, FL in sixty-six days to prepare for battle near Cuba. While not the first ship to face this difficulty, it was an example of the necessity of completing this task. The US decided to take over the venture in 1904 and completed the canal in 1914.
During the exposition, the Oregon, the ship that proved the necessity of the canal and a veteran of both the Spanish-American War and the voyage of the Great White Fleet, was on display in the harbor.
The Navy’s participation did not end there. Numerous exhibits across the fair displayed models of Navy ships, feats of naval engineering, and other naval artifacts. On the last day of the fair, large crowds of people attempting to rush the fences to have an opportunity to see the exposition were met by a large assembly of trainees from Yerba Buena Island Naval Training facilities armed with rifles. They guarded the vehicle entrance gates to prevent people from breaking through and rushing the exposition. The sight of the armed guards was enough to frighten the crowd and restore order.