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Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915

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Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, and unofficially, the rebirth of San Francisco after the disastrous fire of 1906. It was held in San Francisco, California from February 20 to December 4, 1915. Total attendance was 18,876,438, with 13,127,103 paid and 1,057,146 returned checks (!). Tickets were 50 cents per day for adults, season books cost $11 each (later $10). 25 states, 35 nations and 5 colonies/protectorates (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico) participated. The Expo covered 625 acres in an area of reclaimed land in the Presidio and Marina District, and unlike many World Expos, actually turned a profit.

The exposition at night.

The Exposition included an incubator pavilion. According to contemporary accounts, this exhibit was organized by Martin Couney and was in the amusement section of the fair (the “Joy Zone”) rather than the science section. The incubators were manufactured by Kny-Scheerer, a surgical supply company with an office in Jamaica, New York, licensed by Dr. Alexandre Lion in France. The incubators were exhibited on the first floor, while a model kitchen and accommodations for the staff were located on the 2nd floor. As part of his marketing efforts, Dr. Couney imported five storks from Europe, which roamed about in front of the pavilion in a small fenced area.

“In 1915, Martin Couney organized an impressive exhibit at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Here ‘the tiny tots that had tried to begin life too soon and had to be kept in warm glass chambers awhile so they could get a better start, excited the sympathy of thousands.’ A constant stream of visitors of every age and condition visited the show. (The concession took in over $72,000 during the ten-month run of the exhibition.) –– Incubator-Baby Side-Shows, by William A. Silverman.

Photo from private collection.

“The guidebook of the fair noted: “The appeal of the helplessness of the unconscious mites of humanity rescued and thriving in spite of adverse fate reaches alike the specialist and the careless sightseer who may learn here the particulars of nourishment, nurture and care given these incubator babies. The concession may be described as educational and, in these days of awakening to social service and duty to humanity some study of the methods pursued in working out late discoveries and theories, is well worth while.” — Incubator-Baby Side-Shows, by William A. Silverman

Source: San Francisco Public Library.
Source: Charles C. Moore Photo Albums, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library
“Infant Incubator Exhibit, infant lying down . Source: California State Library.
Infant Incubator Exhibit. Woman holding premature infants. Source: California State Library.
Infant Incubator Exhibit. Woman holding premature infant. Source: California State Library.
Infant Incubator Exhibit. Nurse holding premature infant. Source: California State Library.

“The Infant Incubators Exhibit on the Zone. Created to educate the general public, this exhibit demonstrated that with proper treatment babies with weak constitutions could be strong and healthy. To lend color to the enterprise, five storks were brought from Budapest to live in the hospital gardens.” — San Francisco Invites The World, by Donna Ewald and Peter Cluter, p. 122.

Frame grab from the YouTube video linked at the end of this page.
Frame grab from the YouTube video linked at the end of this page.

The San Francisco Public Library has photos of the Baby Incubator Building under construction and in its finished state.

Source: San Francisco Public Library historical collection
Source: San Francisco Public Library historical collection

Below: Article in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 1915.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, January 16,1915.

Below: Article in the San Francisco Examiner, February 20, 1915.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, February 20, 1915.

Below: San Francisco Chronicle clipping from March 28, 1915.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1915.

Below: San Francisco Chronicle clipping from November 20, 1915.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, November 20, 1915.

Below: A map of the exposition. The Palace of Fine Arts still stands today (although it has been restored and renovated several times in the interim), but most of the other buildings were destroyed or moved after the exposition ended. The “Zone” (amusement park) is on the right end of the map.

Below: A more detailed map of the Fun Zone, showing the location of the Incubator Baby exhibit.