February 19, 2015

Exhibit explores 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco

Time flies! A new Wells Fargo History Museum exhibit is part of a citywide celebration marking the centennial of the 1915 world’s fair.

A century ago San Francisco rose from the rubble of the 1906 earthquake and fires to stake its claim as a city on the move. The forum was the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (or PPIE) — a world’s fair celebrating not only the city’s rebirth but also completion of the Panama Canal the year before.

A new exhibit, Wells Fargo at the PPIE, at the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco recalls those achievements and how the city and Wells Fargo have moved forward ever since.

Featuring rare documents and artifacts from the Wells Fargo Corporate Archives, the exhibit opened Feb. 19 and runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 4 at the museum on 420 Montgomery St.

Photo of Wells Fargo banking store at 1 California St., and images in window promoting the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
1915 image of the Palace of Fine Arts building in San Francisco
Photo of the Wells Fargo Pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Wells Fargo Pavilion illustration and Panama-Pacific International Exposition postcard
Photo of Wells Fargo stagecoach appearing in the Wells Fargo Day parade at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Camera license, parade ribbon and Wells Fargo Messenger magazine cover from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Photo of cut-glass novagems from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Wells Fargo’s Market-California banking store at 1 California St. is one of two promoting the anniversary of the exposition with window “wraps.” The other is Union Trust store at 2 Grant Ave.
The Palace of Fine Arts building is the only one that remains from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. On Feb. 21, a new space for interactive activities called Innovation Hangar opens in the Palace’s redesigned Exhibition Hall.
In 1915, the Wells Fargo Pavilion inside the Transportation Palace included a full-service express office as well as a history display.
An illustration of Wells Fargo’s display at the exposition and a panoramic postcard showing how it dazzled visitors at night.
The Wells Fargo stagecoach joined a brass band, marching team members, and other displays June 15, 1915, during the exposition’s Wells Fargo Day parade.
Among the artifacts on display: A camera license used by visitors in 1915, a Wells Fargo Day parade ribbon, and a June 1914 cover of the Wells Fargo Messenger magazine for team members anticipating the exposition.
Some of the cut-glass novagems that decorated the Tower of Jewels at the exposition’s entrance.

Looking back, moving forward

CEO John Stumpf attended the opening ceremony for the exhibit, which also marked the re-opening of the Wells Fargo History Museum on Montgomery Street after a robbery damaged it several weeks ago. He said, “Wells Fargo opened our doors here on July 13, 1852. And for the past 80 years, we’ve had a museum here as well — sharing our history, where guests come to enjoy and understand and appreciate our journey together, just like they do at our 10 other museums across the U.S.”

Exhibit highlights include:

  • Original cut-glass “Novagems” from the Tower of Jewels building that dazzled visitors at the 1915 exposition’s entrance. Connected by a metal loop so they could move in the wind, the 100,000 cut-glass gems decorating the building’s cornices shimmered day and night.
  • Documents showing financial support from Wells Fargo’s express company and Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank to help privately fund the exhibition.
  • Historic maps and illustrations.
  • A special collection of images by official fair photographer Willard Worden that were donated to Wells Fargo in the 1940s. Subjects included the Palace of Fine Arts — the only structure from 1915 that is still standing today — located at 3301 Lyon Street.
  • The Wells Fargo Pavilion within the Palace of Transportation with its full-service express office and history display with stagecoach.
  • Photos and ribbons from the “Wells Fargo Day” parade the company held June 15, 1915, complete with brass bands, wagons, stagecoach, and hundreds of team members in attendance.
  • An audio reading of letters that author Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of the Little House on the Prairie books) penned about her experiences at the 1915 exposition.

“I’m so excited the museum is open once again to serve our children and other visitors,” says Brenda Wright, senior manager of Community Relations for Wells Fargo’s Western Region. “Years ago, when my daughter was 9 years old, she experienced its treasures as part of a school field trip. When she got home, she was so excited to tell me what she had learned about California’s history and the fact that African Americans played a role in Wells Fargo’s history. With the museum’s reopening, we’ll be able to continue to tell these stories and bring history to life.”

The Wells Fargo History museum at 420 Montgomery Street is among 50 cultural organizations taking part in the California Historical Society’s yearlong centennial celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (

The citywide celebration begins Feb. 21 on the official anniversary date with PPIE100 Community Day, when a new space for interactive activities called Innovation Hangar opens in the Palace’s redesigned Exhibition Hall. Innovation Hangar will feature new inventions and prototypes, hands-on educational activities, and exhibitions from companies, museums, and other cultural groups. The building also will house the Society’s exhibit, “City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair.”

“We want everybody, from all neighborhoods and ethnicities, to celebrate what was done 100 years ago in rebuilding this incredible city from the rubble, and then to have a conversation about what we can accomplish together as a city in the next 100 years,” says Adam Hirschfelder, the society’s director of strategic initiatives. “Because of its role building so many of the city’s institutions, Wells Fargo was our one of our first stops for support.”

Beverly Smith, head of Historical Services at Wells Fargo, says the company is helping the society spread the word of the celebration with messages on its Bay Area ATMs, digital advertisements on screens behind the tellers of its banking stores, “wrapping” the exterior of two of its banking stores to make them business billboards, online advertising, and other support.

Like the original exhibition, the centennial celebration is privately funded.

Other links between past and present exist, too. Take the “Pescadero Coach” Wells Fargo displayed at the exhibition in 1915. The stagecoach is now in the lobby of Wells Fargo’s San Francisco Main banking store at 464 California St.

Network of museums

The Wells Fargo museum housing the exhibit about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition is the first of a network of 11 museums celebrating Wells Fargo’s shared history with its communities.