Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2018

Lighthouses at the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915


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The United States Lighthouse Service was clearly nearing the height of its existence in 1915 when they made a big splash with their exhibit at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, California in 1915.

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The exposition was supposed to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, but it was more of a celebration of the rebuilding of San Francisco from the devastating 1906 earthquake.

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At the exposition, the U.S. Lighthouse Service had 3,300 square feet of exhibit space in the Machinery Building where they would show off their accomplishments to the general public.

Included in their display was a massive collection of water color paintings done in 1859 of early light stations on the Pacific Coast, which was impressive in itself, since most people of the time had never even seen a photograph of the early lighthouses.

The Lighthouse Service crammed as many items as they could into the space that was allotted them, including a 10-pound cannon used from 1855 to 1857 at the Point Bonita Lighthouse. It was used as the first fog signal on the west coast of the United States.

Also on display was the first Fresnel lens imported into the United States for use at the Navesink Lighthouse in New Jersey, and also the first lens used in 1854 at the Alcatraz Lighthouse in California. They also highlighted a large collection of old lamps used for burning sperm oil, lard oil, and early plunger and air pressure lamps for kerosene.

Since they couldn’t get every lighthouse artifact on display, they included 50 enlarged photographs of important lighthouse objects with models to scale of a number of important lighthouses, such as Tillamook Rock and vessels of the Lighthouse Service.

The attendants assigned to the exhibit were experienced lighthouse keepers who were assigned for details of three weeks each, and they were present in full uniform to answer any questions from visitors during the entire duration of the historic event that started on February 20, 1915 and lasted until December 4, 1915. This was a wonderful opportunity for the lighthouse keepers, and it was quite a change from their normal duties.

It was estimated that 18 million people visited the Exposition during its duration, but because it was so large and spread out over such a great length of land it was impossible for visitors to successfully see it all and it is unknown how many people viewed the lighthouse exhibit.

A Medal of Honor was awarded to the lighthouse exhibit by Exposition authorities, and Silver Medals were given to the U.S. Lighthouse Service officials who prepared and designed the exhibit.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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