San Francisco World’s Fair in Photos

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By Jonathan H

Some of the most fervid of fans of Bearings may have wondered where the posts have been. I haven’t been entirely inactive, and the bulk of the time normally spent on Bearings has been spent gallivanting around in abandoned locations, figuring out a way to recover a hard drive, and applying for grad schools. But the one really exciting project I’ve undertaken lately is an in-depth look at Treasure Island – site of the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition.

The San Francisco World’s Fair of 1939 – known by aficionados as the “Pageant of the Pacific” – was held on what was at the time the largest manmade island in the world. The $50 million dollar Treasure Island became a symbol of hopeful optimism, Great Depression-era government largesse, and a fervent trust in science and engineering at a unique juncture in history. Treasure Island, Atlantis-like, arose in the middle of a metropolitan center increasingly aware of its influence in the Pacific Rim. And it foretold the impending war in ways that is often eerily prophetic. Famed sculptor, Ralph Stackpole centerpieced the island with a giant idol to Pacific culture known as Pacifica. Bearings favorite, Timothy Pflueger (who you may know through our post about exploring the Pac Bell Building) had a hand in multiple buildings on the island. Miguel Covarrubias painted gigantic murals measuring as much as 24 feet across depicting the Pacific Rim. It was there, on Treasure Island, that America hosted its first Michelangelo.

This post is the repository for an unprecedented collection of San Francisco World’s Fair images, memorabilia, artwork, architectural plans, and advertisements. It was a labor of love for a frenetic four months of my life last fall, and it is the product of days – nay, weeks – of aggregate time spent at the Bancroft, Richmond, Moffitt, and San Francisco City libraries. I thank the Bancroft Library for finally laxing their once-draconian requirement that nobody can take images of Bancroft materials. They now allow photography for a nominal fee.

I do not claim to own any of the copyrights on these images.  The truth is, many of them are nearing their copyright expiration; many are orphan works, whose artists remain anonymous yet have impacted my research in a big way. I’m simply here to bring these images to the light of day. In another post, soon (I hope) I’ll post the result of my research – a look at the corporate motivations in the propaganda and art of the fair, particularly in the remaking of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition as the harbinger of a new era of limitless consumption, leisure, and clandestine corporate imperialism in the Pacific Rim. We still live with that legacy today, but the exposition was simply a manifestation of its powerful crafters’ ideological ambition, so I don’t hazard to blame the exposition itself. Without further ado, I present to you the largest known collection of exposition material yet made available online.

The San Francisco Exposition Collection

Below are 500 images from the San Francisco World’s Fair. These images were collected over a two-month research project on the corporate motivations of the Golden Gate International Exposition. They contain images of Treasure Island, Pan Pacific Clippers, Advertisements, Art Work, Guidebooks, Collectibles, Brochures, Architecture, and more. Images also include the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. All images have been painstakingly tagged and captioned.
Click below to see the images.
The West Invites You: 1939 World's Fair Southern Pacific Advertisement for the World's Fair 34586 Chapter in Your Life Entiled, San Francisco, 1940 Union Pacific at the 1939 World's Fair Santa Fe in Miniature The Golden Gate Santa Fe at World's Fair Artist's Rendering of Bay Bridge with Treasure Island IMG_0002 House of Heinz Exhibit Brochure Heinz 57 Varieties Heinz Presents: Kitchens from America - Part 1 of 2 American Kitchen, 1939  at the Heinz Exhibit Heinz Exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair Federal Exhibit Building the 1939 World's Fair... On San Francisco Bay Pagentry of Business at the World's Fair - Part 2 Pagentry of Business at the World's Fair "Year to Go" 1939 World's Fair Artist's Conception of Treasure Island World's Fair America Looks Westward in '39 75 Days to Go Construction Photos of World's Fair Planning details and Images - 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco Pie Charts of 1939 World's Fair Planning Map Layout of Treasure Island World's Fair Vehicular Traffic at Treasure Island - World's Fair Art Staff Seeks World's Treasures Sculpture at the World's Fair Sculpture at the World's Fair Exhibits Parade - Part 1 of 2 Exhibits Parade - Part 1 of 2 Greetings from the Mid-Winter Exposition Firth Wheel & Electric Tower Electric Tower and Bear The Giant Typewriter PG&E Exhibit at San Francisco World's Fair Paper's Part in the House Interior of Crown Zellerbach Brochure IMG_0039 Crown Zellerbach Corporation at World's Fair Ticket Stubs from 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco Religious Imagery from the 1939 World's Fair at San Francisco Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) American Presidents Lines Advertisement Aerial Images of Treasure Island Aerial Images of Treasure Island 1939 World's Fair Brochure Planned Fair Layout on Treasure Island Here is a $40,000,000 World's Fair Travel Leaders Take Fair Space Mining Exhibit Under Way Name the Amusement Zone Contest U.S. Army Officials Inspect Fair Site Towers at the Fair Ford Motor Exhibit to Cost $500,000 Railroad Crossings Bridged City Entrances and Beltlines Bay Bridge: A Highway Masterpiece IMG_0068 1915 Universal Exposition Ground Plan Enterprise & The Fountain of Energy Genius of Machinery Power, Companion to Genius of Machinery Palace of Machinery Views of PPIE Grounds Prior to Consruction Night View of South Gardens and Main Entrance Column of Progress Acroteria & The Rising Sun The Supreme Significance of the Exposition Map of 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition Palace of Horticulture United States Government Building Creation and Evolution of the Dreadnaught Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Treasure Isle - Painted with Light Mammoth Typewriter General View in the Palace of Education Telescope Exhibit - Palace of Liberal Arts Central Aisle - Palace of Machinery One of the Diesel Engines & Gas Engines A Large Fountain & The Great Color Press The 20,000 Horse-Power Turbine Conveyor System for a Modern Factory and Gang Drill Machine A California Gold Dredge The Globe - 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo Iowa: A Real Cornucopia Fountain and Palace Diploma of Award, Panama-Pacific International Exposition - 1915 Award Medal of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Improving the Human Breed The Power of the Arts & The Struggle for the Beautiful Composition and Distribution of Exhibits at 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition Arcade Entrance to the Court of Abundance Triumph of the Field Foundatin of Beauty and the Beast Autumn at 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition Tower and Banners Panama Pacific International Exposition Finances The Hercules Poster The Nations of the West Fountain of Ceres Arch of the Setting Sun The Central Vista The Exposition Illuminated Court of Abundance by Night The Aeroscope United States Warships Anchored off the Marina Court of the Moon Court of Pacifica Pacifica with Plane Overhead Federal Building Transparent Pontiac at Treasure Island World's Fair America, Cavalcade of a Nation Financial Details - 1939 - 1940 Golden Gate Exposition Maps of Treasure Island Areas Elephant Train Transportation on Treasure Island Ford Motor Company at San Francisco World's Fair Maxwell House Coffee at the World's Fair Administration and Board of Directors and Management How to Get to the World's Fair on Treasure Island How to Get To Treasure Island World's Fair Map, San Francisco, 1939 General Motors at the World's Fair IBM at the Pageant of the Pacific Junket Food Products Exhibit Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge Facts Welcome to Du Pont's "Wonder World of Chemistry" Peace or War Pacifica: A "Master of Immensity" at Treasure Island "Fascinating" Gas Exhibit at Treasure Island Wells Fargo Exhibit at the San Francisco World's Fair See Miracles in Glass at the World's Fair Religion at the Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939 Bank of America at San Francisco World's Fair A Demonstration of Human Heredity Nutrition: The High Road to Health California at the Golden Gate International Exposition Staff Organization, World's Fair on Treasure Island California Recreation Building at Treasure Island Agricultural Exhibit at San Francisco World's Fair Central Valley Exhibit at Treasure Island, 1939 Treasure Mountain at the San Francisco World's Fair Wine Exhibit at GGIE Dairy Building at World's Fair To Tim Pflueger... "Your America," Federal Government at the World's Fair, San Francisco The Colonnade of States Tower of the Sun as seen from the Colonnade of the States Social Affairs Hall, Federal Building at World's Fair Federal Recreation Center at San Francisco World's Fair The Wage-Earners, Federal Exhibit, GGIE Federal Exhibit Terrarium, 1939 Aviation at World's Fair War and National Defense at San Francisco World's Fair Federal Art Project Exhibit San Francisco, 1939 Pacifica on Treasure Island The Peacemakers in the Court of Pacifica Treasure Island Gold Book Pictorial Tower of the San at Night Bridging the World Golden Gate Exposition 1939 Souvenir Book "Peace-Makers" Mural in Court of Pacifica Tower of the Sun with San Francisco in Background "Evening Star" at the San Francisco World's Fair Federal Building Front Woman with Plantain with Pacifica in Background Both World's Fairs Have Conquered Noise Successfully Ford Motor Company Exhibit United States Steel at the World's Fair, SF Armstrong Floors Both Fairs Armstrong Linoleum at San Francisco World's Fair Bell System Advertisement My Job is Mining Lead But That Tells Me A Lot About Paint Map and Ground Plan of San Francisco World's Fair, 1939 Federal Building at San Francisco World's Fair U.S. Government Exhibits - San Francisco World's Fair Exhibits for WPA, Social and Economic Affairs - San Francisco World's Fair California Auditorium at World's Fair California Auditorium - GGIE California State Building San Francisco Building at Treasure Island World's Fair Public Utilities Commission Exhibit Women's Club - San Francisco World's Fair Del Monte Exhibit at SF World's Fair United States Steel Corp and Dow Chemical Co Libbey Owens Ford Glass and Armour and Co Exhibits United States of Brazil at SF World's Fair Brazil at the San Francisco World's Fair Argentina at the San Francisco World's Fair Argentina at the World's Fair, San Francisco Japan at the San Francisco World's Fair Italy at the Golden Gate International Exposition Czecho-Slovakia Sweden at the San Francisco World's Fair Portugal at the San Francisco World's Fair Millions Will See what Architects are Choosing Previews of Tomorrow Point to Cities of Concrete  Buildings Like This Laux Plywood Finishes Douglas Fir Plywood at World's Fair, San Francisco Douglas Fir Plywood at the World's Fair Go Modern with Modine Marvels in Glass! Libbey Owens Ford Quality Glass Payne Furnace & Supply Co, Inc. at Treasure Island Flexwood at the World Fairs Libbey Owens Ford Quality Glass at Treasure Island Metropolitan Oakland Area Pageant of the Pacific * 1939 Map Pittsburgh at the World's Fair PG&E at Treasure Island PG&E "In the Center of Everything" Hills Brothers Coffee Greyhound at the World's Fair United States Steel Run, Little Chillun Federal Theater - Alcazar Federal Theatre on Treasure Island The Swing Mikado Mikado in Swing Tower of the Sun The Story of Alexander Graham Bell Federal Theater on Treasure Island New World Story at the Federal Exhibit Hi Ho! Come to the Fair! Star Olive Oil Hollywood Glamour Party on Treasure Island IMG_20101016_165015 Festival of Modern Dance Federal Theater at GGIE Build a Better Home Under a Better Plan One-Third of a Nation Rehoused by Your Government Sally Rand's Troubles Begin Island is Rough on Rats Pacific House Popular Christian Business Men's Exhibit Christ is "Too Harsh"; Moses "too Dark" Have You Seen Stella? Inga Steen's "Little Package" Death After Dark Then & Now: Roads at the GGIE The City of Tomorrow Germany - A Test Tube for Road Builders To Drape or Undrape: That is the Question Road Builder's Convention Closes Folies Bergere Opens! Who Wears the Pants on Treasure Island? It was Hot! Du Pont Nylon at GGIE St Patrick's Day at the Fair Shasta-Cascade Exhibit The Island's Really a Fair within a Fair Professor Nash Speaks What about Your Width-Weight? Ruby Reykelin - Flight Attendant American Institute of Directors Elysium - Telivision City on the Gay Way Folies Bergere Incubator Babies Arrive Refreshed! by Santa Fe Sleeper Bus IMG_20101017_164536 IMG_20101017_164543 Don't Miss It! General Motors Day at the Fair! Today Let's Go to See... 1876 Philadelphia World's Fair - Machinery A Century of Progress Golden Gate International Exposition - 1939 California Buildings Court of the Moon Exposition Tower and Gateway, Treasure Island Postcard Image of Santa Fe Exhibition Gateway to Califorina's International Exposition of the West on San Francisco Bay Junket Food at Golden Gate International Exposition Night View of World's Fair on Treasure Island Court of Reflections and Tower of the Sun Statue of Pacifica Elephant Towers, Portals of the Pacific Court of the Moon Elephant Train and Federal Building Chinese Village Court of the Flowers Exposition Tower, "The Spire of the Sun", on Treasure Island Main Portal, Avenue of the Seven Seas and Exhibit Palaces Official Guide Book for Golden Gate International Exposition Court of the Seven Seas and the Tower of the Sun Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge Court of Pacifica and Fountain of Western Waters Rainbow Girl Atop Fountain of Life Federal Building and Lakes of the Nations Court of Reflections and Arch of Triumph Court of the Seven Seas Looking Towards Pacifica Court of Reflections and Arch of Triumph The Magic City on Treasure Island Rainbow Girl Atop Fountain of Life, Court of the Flowers Arch of Triumph South Tower, Court of the Moon Golden Gate International Exposition as it Will Appear in 1939 Fountain of Western Waters Court of the Seven Seas Showing Pacifica Court of Pacifica and Fountain of Western Waters SF World's Fair, 1939 Poster Pacifica Poster Short Wave Radio Broadcast Station Pacifica on Official Guidebook to World's Fair High-resolution Treasure Island World's Fair Map Standard Oil Bulletin W6XBE Women Taking Down KGEI Sign Conquest of the West Swing Mikado at Treasure Island "Discovery" Frieze above Vacationland Building Boy Scouts at the World's Fair National Cash Register Hoover Dam and International Motors We Give You San Francisco! Tower of the Sun Fertility and Aundance The Peacemakers "Peep" Show on the Gayway Statue in Federal Plaza Panel from Golden Gate Exposition Pacifica at Night in Black and White Vehicle Entrance to Treasure Island Swing Mikado Poster Transparent Woman Exhibit Transparent Woman Exhibit Vacation in San Francisco Southern Pacific Advertisement Souvenir Telegram from World's Fair Tower of the Sun in Color at Night Tower of Sun With Statue Tower of the Sun through Trees How Mary and Bill Saw Twice as Much on their trip to the San Francisco World's Fair Southern Pacific Advertisement Paul Mantz Seaplane Base, Treasure Island Pacifica in Blue on Guidebook Aerial View of Treasure Island Night Glamour of the Court of Flowers Tower of the Sun with Pan American Clipper in Harbor Sante Fe Brochure San Francisco Sculptors Finish Gigantic Statues for 1939 Fair San Francisco Sculptors Finish Gigantic Statues for 1939 Fair Map of Redwood Empire San Francisco Booster Brochure Golden Gate Exposition Petroleum Exhibit Treasure Island Rocket Ship The Story of the West: By PG&E How Radium Fights Cancer San Francisco World's Fair Seal Showing Swastika of Third Reich PABCO at the San Francisco World's Fair Court of the Seven Seas Detail Westinghouse at San Francisco World's Fair Detail of Diego Rivera Mural Drink Coca-Cola Big Cake at SF World's Fair Chicago & North Western Railway at World's Fair Temples of the East Greyhound Bus Tag with Tower of the Sun Ford at Treasure Island Exhibition Palaces Federal Building at Treasure Island Court of the Seven Seas Large View of Bank of America Building at Night Peacemakers in Color at Night Bank of America Building Federal Building Aerial View Diving Bell at Treasure Island ebs39sfwffoliesbergerepgm Towers of the East (Elephant Towers) Exhibit for Union Pacific at SF World's Fair Cavalcade of the Golden West chapter-of-your-life New Golden Gate International Exposition Opens May 25 East Meets West at the San Francisco World's Fair This Year Add the San Francisco Fair to all the fun of Southern California Railway Express Agency Historic Exhibit Mission Guide Tree 1939 World's Fair Cake Mandolin Playing Sculpture Sunken Gardens, Exhibit Palaces and Exposition Tower The House o Pure Virgin Wool Blankets High Resolution Oblique Map of Treasure Island World's Fair Tower of the Sun With People Federal Building Mural from Afar Exposition Fish Grotto Menu ExpoFishGrottoSF939b The "Spire" of the Sun Coke at Treasure Island Fair Rainbow Statue Elephant Towers and Tower of the Sun Gayway at Night on Treasure Island Tower of Sun at Night Buddha at Treasure Island World's Fair Architectural Rendering of Tower of Sun Court of the Hemispheres Parking at the World's Fair East Elephant Towers Gayway Marquee Pacifica and Fountain of Western Waters Ferry Slips at World's Fair San Francisco Closeup of Pacifica People in front of Tower of Sun National Cash Register at World's Fair Rainbow Fountain Detail Peacemakers in Detail Court of the Seven Seas Portals of the Pacific Federal Building and Sign to Seaplane Base Child on Gayway Closeup of Federal Building Mural Elephant Tower Stairs Viscaino Kino Portola Tower of the Sun at Dusk Black & White Tower of Sun SF World's Fair in Retrospect Scale Model of World's Fair Grounds Federal Building Before Event Ford Building with Fresco Discovery Entrance to Vacation Building World's Fair Air Mail Envelope Souvenir Stamp Architectural Rendering of the Original "Pacifica" Pacific The Federal Building U.S. Military Band California World's Fair on San Francisco Bay Aerial Rendering of Federal Building, San Francisco World's Fair CaricaTour of Treasure Island Ripley Believe it or Not Court of Pacific Sound-Color Travelogue Homes & Gardens Building Airliner over San Francisco, Bay Bridge, Oakland, Berkeley in Distance Artist's Rendering of Treasure Island Court of the Hemispheres San Francisco's Business District and Bay Peacemakers Mural in Court of Pacifica and Fountain of Western Waters Statue of Creation Night View of Treasure Island Temple Compound and Towers of the East Avenue of the Seven Seas and Exposition Tower Chinese Village at World's Fair Portal of the Pacific and Tower of the Sun Sunken Gardens Full 1939 Ticket with Stub Union Oil Souvenir Map Cover Main Portal Billy Rose's Aquacade Dining Car Menu for Southern Pacific Southern Pacific Menu Beverages Main Portal Opening Ceremonies Book Treasure Island Southern Pacific Brochure Southern Pacific Menu - 1939 Foreign Participation at World's Fair Western Wonderland - SF World's Fair Golden Gate Exposition Opening Day, 1940 1940 Opening Ceremonies of World's Fair Californians, Inc Advertisement A Pageant of the Pacific Architecture at World's Fair California! Many Vacations in One Watercolor of San Francisco with Golden Gate California: Twice the Average Success California: Where Life is Better Why 460,000 People Have Moved to California Treasure Island of 1939 The Progressive Union Pacific Railroad Building Treasure Island WPA Posters Here is An Experience You Will Find Entirely New Children Looking at Elephant Tower Union Pacific United Air Lines Mainliner Sepia Art Deco Advertisement for World's Fair of 1939 Exposition Tower and Gateway Golden Gate Bridge Looking Towards Treasure Island Back of Postcard Evolution of Shelter Temple Compound Card Table Showing Exposition Features California's World's Fair: A Pageant of the Pacific World's Fair Badge 1939 World's Fair Key Fob Arthur Brown, Jr Tower of the Sun Drawing Aluminum Company of America at World's Fair Colorized Image from SF World's Fair Shell Oil Company at World's Fair Pennsylvania Railroad at World's Fair Giant Pacifica Pan American Clipper above Treasure Island Pan American Clipper above Treasure Island

11 comments on “San Francisco World’s Fair in Photos

  1. Brian on said:

    I just came across a personal coin bank in the shape of a small book (4-1/2″ high by 3-1/2 wide by 1″ thick) that says “Treasure Island Club of The San Francisco Bank – 1939” It is metal, lined with lead and has relief drawings on the front and back of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. I’ve tried to get more info on it via the Internet, but no luck. Do you have any idea of its worth, or who I could contact for more info about this? Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you…Brian

  2. gloria davis on said:

    I am looking for information on Dr. Martin Couney,who invented the incubators for premature babies.
    He held exhibits at the 1940 World Fairs in New York, Chicago and at San Francisco’s Treasure Island. I did not see anything about him or his exhibits on your webpages. Can you clarify? Thank you. G. Davis

  3. Paul Steffen on said:

    Wonderful, wonderful stuff! I find world fairs fascinating and particularly the ones that occurred in San Francisco because my family goes back to the late 1800’s in SF, had a prominent shipping business on Market St. that burned down in the ’06 quake. There’s a good chance my grandfather had a top floor office in that “Key System Building” as he managed investments for Bank of America’s biggest accounts (wealthy oil families along the California coast, and my dad remembers dinners at Ty Cobb’s house). A house that my cousin owns was part of the Chinese pavilion in the 1940’s fair on Treasure Island, I believe. It was shipped over from China on a barge for the pavilion and is now a residence in the sand dunes of Asilomar. A large wooden arch out front was there as well.

    Photo (via Pacific Grove Heritage)

  4. Mike Meuser on said:

    Hello – I have a Yosemite poster by Jo Mora that is from the Frank Feliz collection (director of tourism 1939 Golden Gate Expostion) and it was on view in the Pacific House during the 1939 SF World’s Fair. I’m trying to find out more about this. I’ve done some research and Jo Mora did not print color versions of the map/poster until 1941 yet this one that I have from 1939 is in color. Any information appreciated. You can email me at Thank you.

  5. Kevin Keeblw on said:

    I have one of Dudley Carters carvings that was on the front of the Shasta-Cascade building at the 39-40 fair. I was wondering if anyone knew if any others survived? I can be reached by email.

  6. Eileen Herrera on said:

    My father attended the San Francisco Wprl’s Fair in 1939. He remembers a woman named Mary Ann Ivankovich being given a Miss World’s Fair 1939 title. Is there any photo of this young woman? She was from Watson ille, California. Thank you. Eileen Herrera

  7. Georgia Howder on said:

    My husband played his violin in very large band at the 1939 world fair on treasure island. I am looking for the picture that was taken. Can you help me find it?

  8. REX MATTSON on said:

    My mother was “Miss Ford Exhibit” at the SF TI fair in 1939. I have a bunch of stuff. Are you interested ??
    Thanks, Rex

  9. Georgia Howder on said:

    My husband George played the violin in the large band in 1939 worlds fair. He was 13. He is deceased now but I am sure his children would love a picture. I believe it was in the newspaper. Any ideas to find it?

  10. BeckyAnne Erickson on said:

    My mother-in-law and her twin brother will be eighty years old this Saturday. They were premie twins on display in incubators at the 1939 SF World’s Fair. Any photos from that exhibit? I would love to surprise them with some proof!

  11. Michael S on said:

    The San Francisco Exposition Collection
    Below are 500 images clicked on many images on this page
    click then IMAGES WILL NOT OPEN images seem to default to another page WITHOUT opening ,…. shame

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