America's Empire at Home

View item information

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition grounds housed objects, stories, and peoples from across the American empire. This ticket provided entrance to the Hawaii Building. Most of the exposition structures were demolished after 1909, but a few remain as part of the University of Washington’s campus. Courtesy of University of Washington.

Thousands of miles separated the US from its colonies. This did not stop Americans from imagining Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. They were far-away and exotic, the source of constant curiosity and excitement. Still, they were familiar, inspiring American fashion and entertainment. This section explores how American popular culture—from world's fairs to wallpaper, prose to politics—brought the nation's empire into the lives of average Americans.

Seattle, Washington held one of the largest celebrations of America's newfound international influence. Since the late 1890s, the city had been the gateway to Alaska serving as a major outpost for explorers and entrepreneurs headed north. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened in 1909 to celebrate the city and nation's connections with Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Rim.

Among the carnival rides, souvenir stands, and ornate gardens stood a number of other, more exotic exhibitionsmodels of Hawaiian villages, copies of treaties with Puerto Rico, and Alaskan dog sleds. On the exposition's Pay Streak boardwalk, organizers installed a Filipino Igorotte village with fifty native peoples brought in from the Philippines. Attendees had to pay an extra fifty cents for all human exhibitions, but many purchased the ticket. With it, they could watch indigenous peoples like the Igorrote live on the boardwalk. They cooked, slept, sang, and danced, all to the delight and unrelenting demand of exposition-goers.