World Exhibition

20/02/1915 - 04/12/1915

Celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal

Official Designation
Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Area (ha)



In 1906, a terrible earthquake and subsequent fire hit San Francisco, destroying the city. The need to reconstruct strengthened the earlier idea, dating from 1904, that the city should host an Expo to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. On 20 February 1915, the Panama Pacific International Exposition opened in San Francisco, California. It was a great success, boosting morale in the Bay and reasserting the value of San Francisco.

The Expo site

The Expo was located on the South bank of the San Francisco Bay next to the Golden Gate strait. The site stretched more than 4 km along the bank, between Fort Mason and Presidio. Built in three years, the Expo's most recognised buildings were the Tower of Jewels and the Domed City. The majority of buildings and palaces were designed to last only for the Expo period, with the exception of the Palace of Fine Arts, which was not demolished and was entirely rebuilt in the 1960s.

Star attractions and innovations

The Panama Pacific International Exposition 1915 was the first Expo to widely use "indirect lighting". These lights reflected the appearance and the colour of the buildings.

A phone line was established with New York City, so that people could hear the Pacific Ocean.

The Liberty Bell, the symbol of American Independence, was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Pavilion for four months during the Expo. It was the last time the iconic bell left its home in Philadelphia.

However, the main attraction was the topographical model of the Panama Canal, which spanned over two hectares. A movable platform (439 metres long, with a capacity of 1,200 people in 144 connected carriages) circled the model in 23 minutes, for the sum of 50 cents. The mechanism presaged the famous "Futurama" of the New York Expo in 1939. During the 289 days of the Expo, almost 19 million visitors passed through its gates. Despite being held in the shadow of the First World War, 29 foreign countries and 32 American states and territories participated in the Expo.