Just nine years after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco staged the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition
In 1915, a great celebration was held in San Francisco to commemorate the completion of the Panama Canal. The celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal drew more than 18 million visitors from around the world once again experienced "the city that knew how." It was a rather incredible event to happen so soon after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Most of San Francisco was destroyed only 9 years before. President Taft announced in 1909 that the Panama Canal would be open for business in 1915. To celebrate that spectacular achievement a World’s Fair was planned. In 1911 San Francisco was chosen to be the host city. The Swedish American Patriotic League swung into fast and vigorous action to raise money. The local Swedish community wanted the Swedish government to erect a pavilion to display some of Sweden’s cultural heritage. Most of Europe was in a state of turmoil. World War 1 was fast approaching but Sweden finally decided to participate. Richard Bergstrom was appointed to be Commissioner General of the Swedish Pavilion.
Astounding world event
Leading Swedish Architect Ferdinand Boberg designed the building and local Swede August Nordin was the supervising architect. The Expo was an astounding event and the Swedish Pavilion lived up to all expectations. To commemorate the Exposition, a medal was designed by Swedish-American artist Carl Oscar Borg. The front side of the medal was an embossed version of the Swedish Pavilion with the Golden Gate and the setting sun in the background. The reverse side had Pallas Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, the Coats of Arms of Sweden and the United States and the inscription “Arbetet Adlar“ (Labor Ennobles), perhaps indicating that work brings nobility. The medal was struck by George Larson a local jeweler and active participant in the success of the exhibit. Souvenir medals were available as mementoes of the Expo. At the end of the Expo two medals placed side by side in a case showing front and back were given by the Swedish Committee to the de Young Museum, where they have been stored for the past 96 years.
In 2006, the Swedish American Hall Library and Archives Chair Susan Bianucci contacted the de Young Museum regarding the disposition of the Commemorative Medals. She asked that they be transferred to the Archives at the Swedish American Hall. The matter was taken under advisement. The de Young has been contacted each year since to try and expedite the acquisition of the medals. Our patience has finally been rewarded in 2011. The Fine Arts Museums Foundation has officially transferred the Commemorative Medals from the 1915 Expo. On May 18, 2011 Susan Bianucci Chair of the Library & Archives Committee and Muriel Beroza received the medals from Stephen Lockwood, Senior Museum Registrar. They will be put on permanent display in the Reception Room of the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco. We are very pleased that the medals are back in Swedish hands and to be able to display this historic memento of the Swedish Exhibit at the Pan Pacific Exposition in 1915.
By Muriel Nelson Beroza
Sources and supplementary information
For those with an interest in further research, Muriel Nelson Beroza has added a bibliography to her news article the Swedish medals. Muriel is herself a relative of Ida Nelson Hansen (Malmquist), the chair person of the committee formed in 1912 to help create the Swedish exhibit at the Expo the medals commemorate.
Bibliography Swedish Medal San Francisco 1915:
Bianucci, Susan. E Mail: May 9, 2011 May 19, 2011
Kaplan, James. Doing the Work of Memory in Stockholm and San Francisco. Swedish American Historical Quarterly Jan., 2008. P. 50.
Kaplan, James. For the Future. The Swedish Pavilion at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. Swedish American Historical Quarterly April, 2006. 114-115.pp
Kaplan, James. E-mail. May 19, 2011, E-mail, June 6, 2011.
Olsson, Astrid. E-Mail. May 19, June 3, July 27.
Sabelstrom, Ulla. E-mail. May 18, 2011, E-mail May 29, 2011.
Stockholm University. History of the University Emblem.
Svensk-Amerikanska Utställningskommittén i San Francisco 1915. Slutrapport. 31 pp.
Todd, Frank Norman. The Story of the Exposition. Vol. 1. Panama-Pacific International Exposition Company, 1921. 216, 228, 232, 311, 386 pp.
Vestkusten. Sverige och Svenskamerikanare vid 1915 års världsutställning. Dec. 22, 1960.
Vestkusten. Kaplan, James. Dr. Jim Kaplan investigating a piece of Swedish History in San Francisco. Oct. 15, 2005.
Wikipedia. Pallas, Daughter of Triton 1 pp
Wikipedia. Athena 18 pp.
Some of the scholarly texts are available online, such as inclusions in The Swedish American Historical Quarterly The Swedish Pavilion at the Panama Pacific International Exposition The academic journal has been digitized and is a great source of information Swedish-American Historical Quarterly (North Park University)