The Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905 offers a window into the history of Portland and the rest of Oregon. At this, the first world’s fair on the West Coast, Oregonians celebrated the past and staked a claim on the future. Oregon had grown by harvesting its natural bounty from forests, fields, and rivers for national and international markets. In the coming decades, Oregonians hoped to produce more and sell its products more widely around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, a vision of the future that has largely come to pass.
Lewis & Clark Centennial & American Pacific Exposition & Oriental Fair:
The Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair of 1905—the first world’s fair on the West Coast—offers a window into the history of Oregon.
The Booster City:
Portland started the twentieth century with a flourish of self-promotion, the most spectacular example of which was the Lewis & Clark Exposition.
Business Leaders & the Exposition:
The Lewis and Clark Exposition drew on the same leadership as other booster efforts in the new century.
The Exposition & the Nation:
Initial plans by Exposition leaders included the effort to lobby state and federal officials for financial support.
Designing the Fair Grounds:
Landscape architect John Olmsted designed the Exposition grounds on leased and undeveloped land around Guild’s Lake in Northwest Portland.
The Fair as Entertainment:
Fair goers had a number of choices when it came to entertainment, ranging from band concerts to Princess Trixie, the educated horse.
Celebrating Settlement: Agrarian Oregon:
The era of the Exposition was also a time of agricultural optimism throughout the state.
Coos County at the Fair:
Coos County erected its own building at the Exposition to laud its growing economy.
Making a Timber Industry:
Designed to celebrate the state’s timber industry, the Forestry Building was Oregon’s unique contribution to the architecture of world’s fairs.
A Helping Hand from Washington:
Oregon’s Exposition coincided with the national era of a federally-sustained frontier.
Engineering the Future:
The Exposition opened fair goers to the idea that the twentieth-century landscape of Oregon and the American West would be reshaped rather than simply utilized.
The technological complexity that reshaped Oregon’s landscape allowed for a dramatic rise in population.
America's Pacific Vision:
The Lewis & Clark Exposition reflected the new Pacific imperial vision ushered in by the Republican administrations of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
The Panama Canal & Urban Rivalry:
Work on the Panama Canal kindled interest in Pacific trade, an interest shared by Exposition boosters.
Asia at the Fair:
Japan’s presence at the Lewis & Clark Exposition proved to be the largest from among the Asian nations that participated.
The Rise of a Pacific Rim Economy since 1905:
The Lewis & Clark Exposition and other West Coast fairs shifted America’s economic focus toward the Pacific.
The Exposition & Native Americans:
The most prominent Native American presence at the Exposition was inanimate—the bronze statue of Sacagawea that would later stand in Portland’s Washington Park.
A Century of Change:
The white resettlement of the Oregon Country brought massive changes to the Native cultures of the Columbia River and Willamette Valley.
Interpreting Imperial Conquests: Arrogant "Anthropology":
The Centennial Exposition exposed fair goers to an array of ethnic groups at a time when social Darwinist ideas grouped cultures along a “progressive” continuum from savagery to civilization.
The Dynamics of Ethnic Change:
At the time of the Exposition most of Oregon’s population could trace its lineage to white and northern European groups.
Oregon's New Immigration:
By the start of the twenty-first century Oregon’s multicultural complexion was more pronounced than at any time since the 1880s.
The Electric Century: The Promise of Technology:
If steam power placed its indelible imprint on the nineteenth-century landscape, the twentieth century promised to be an era of electricity.
Electricity and Industry:
Portland offered a vision of industrial development at the gateways to the Columbia Gorge during the mid-twentieth-century’s dam-building era.
The Electronics Industry:
The electric industry of the 1920s and 1930s evolved into the high-tech electronic industry of the twenty-first century.
The Impact of the Exposition:
By the end of the Exposition many visitors agreed that Portland had joined in the “great march of progress.”
Looking toward the Future:
The success of the Lewis & Clark Exposition reminded the nation that, despite the upstart cities of Seattle and Los Angeles, Portland was still a place to be reckoned with.