Throwback Thursday: Panama-Pacific International Exposition


Levi Strauss & Co.
January 22, 2015

Expositions and world’s fairs have been held in Europe, the United States and Asia for over 200 years. They celebrate everything from advances in art and science, to the discovery of new worlds, to anniversaries of great victories or historical events. One such exposition was held in San Francisco a century ago, and Levi Strauss & Co. was there.

The United States had completed the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914, creating a commercial and maritime link between the Atlantic and the Pacific. This had a profound effect on San Francisco, and the city decided to hold an exposition to celebrate the achievement.

But there was also another reason. San Francisco had rebuilt and recovered from the ravages of the 1906 earthquake and fire, and wanted to show itself off to the world again. Local businesses were approached for help with the funding, and Levi Strauss & Co. was one of the biggest donors. In February of 1915, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) opened its doors to joyous crowds from all over the world.

The LS&Co. sewing line in the Palace of Manufactures

The LS&Co. sewing line in the Palace of Manufactures

The PPIE was built on 600 acres of land in the area of San Francisco known today as the Marina District. In addition to grand boulevards, innovative landscapes, and an amusement park with rides called “The Zone,” the PPIE featured exhibit halls called “Palaces.” They were dedicated to Fine Arts, Education, Transportation, Agriculture and other subjects.  Levi Strauss & Co. built a working sewing line in its enormous booth inside the Palace of Manufactures and Varied Industries.

Women from the factory at 250 Valencia Street in San Francisco worked on this line making Koveralls, the one-piece children’s garment that the company launched in 1912. And it wasn’t just for show; the garments were sewn up and sent to retailers as usual. The display was a big hit, in large part because of the brochure that LS&Co. created to hand out to visitors. It was intricately folded into a little pair of jeans, and when unfolded, was a large, full color advertisement for all of the company’s garments. Manufacturers of all kinds entered their products  into competitions, and LS&Co. won first prize for the children’s Koveralls, as well as the jeans. When the PPIE ended in December, the entire fair was dismantled, except for the Palace of Fine Arts, which still stands in the area today.

LS&Co. Archives shared images of the scaled-down LS&Co. factory that will be featured in a film showing during Community Day at the Palace of Fine Arts on February 21, 2015. One detailed image captures lines of seamstresses hard at work sewing the children’s Koveralls. The event is just one of many activities planned to celebrate the 100 Anniversary of the Panama Pacific International Exposition. You can find more information by visiting www.ppie100.org.

To see actual footage taken of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 click here.