Sports and Athletics

PPIE Army-Navy football Game
The PPIE Army-Navy Football game portrait.

There was no aspect of the sporting world which escaped the attention of the exposition’s General Athletic Committee. Hardly a day would pass when attendees couldn’t satisfy their craving for competition across land, sea and sky. Feats of all kinds were on display!

PPIE Racetrack Finish Line

Off to the Automobile Races

Car races were featured prominently on the newly constructed raceway around what is now Crissy Field. It can’t be said that all of the events went off without a hitch, however. The Vanderbilt Cup Race had to be postponed due to inclement weather. Intended to be one of the early draws, it was scheduled for February 22nd, the second day of the expo. It was rescheduled for-and successfully completed-on March 6th.

In the meantime, the Grand Prix automobile race took place on February 27th. There was rain once again (a common theme during the first week), but the race went on as scheduled. The participants raced around a 3.9 mile course for more than 100 laps. Driving a Peugeot race car, Italian-born English racer Dario Resta (#9) took first place and won $3,000.

The Vanderbilt Cup race was smaller than the Grand Prix, but was still impressive at 77 laps and 300 miles. The cup was donated by W.K. Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The winner of the Vanderbilt Cup was a familiar face-Dario Resta, whom received $3,000 for his trouble. Having taken the Grand Prix and Vanderbuilt Cup, Resta netted himself a tidy sum.


Equine Involvement

The largest horse show ever to be held in the Western United States ran for two weeks in early October. There were all manner of competitions including horse races, which had also been held in June and featured as part of the Saint Patrick’s Day proceedings.

The original plan for the exposition polo tournament was grand in scale. It was slated to feature the greatest teams from all over Europe, North America, Hawaii and India. However, by the commencement of the tournament on March 16th, the outbreak of World War I prevented all but the Hawaiian and North American teams from participating. Games were held in San Francisco, San Mateo and Burlingame and occurred until the first of May. The championship was awarded to Midwick of Pasadena. While the polo games did not turn out profitable in themselves, they managed to muster a great amount of exposure for the fair.

PPIE Lincoln Beachy
Lincoln Beachey and aeroplane.

Aerial Exhibitions

It had been just over a decade since the Wright Brothers achieved powered flight. The Exposition’s daily aviation demonstrations provided many with their first glimpse of an aero plane. There were rides available but at a hefty cost.

The first week of the expo concluded with an exhibition of dare devil aviation by the expo’s official pilot, famed aviator-and San Francisco native-Lincoln Beachey. Beachey earned the contract following a New Year’s Day performance in San Francisco Bay in which he destroyed a replica of the battleship Oregon. He repeatedly dive bombed the makeshift ship while explosions were set onboard to give the appearance of bombs dropping. The skeleton-crew were all unhurt, though it was said that onlookers fainted believing it a real attack.

PPIE Lincoln Beachy in Flight

Unfortunately, Lincoln would not complete his well-deserved contract. Known as the “Man Who Owned the Skies”, Beachey was infamous for his death-defying acts. On March fourteenth, Beachy took off in his monoplane as over 50,000 individuals looked on. Tragically, while performing a stunt known as “looping the loop” the wings on Beachey’s aircraft collapsed and the aviator spiraled over 500 feet into the waters of the San Francisco Bay. It was later determined that Beachy had survived the crash, but had been trapped in the bay mud and drowned.

April third marked the debut of Beachey’s successor. Art Smith took to the night sky over the Exposition. During this flight, Smith dropped 3,000 tickets to the beleaguered Zone attractions

Track and Field

Exposition attendees disappointed by the cancelation of the Vanderbilt Cup and longing for competition could attend the Athletic Union Basketball Championship, which got underway the same day. Teams competing included: The Oakland Y.M.C.A., Whittier, Mt. Angel, the Olympics, Illinois and St. Mary’s. It would run until the 25th, when the Olympics beat Whittier 26-16 for the title.

The Exposition Athletic Field dedication took place on April ninth and began with a procession of young athletes, led by the Exposition Band and accompanied by the Columbia Park Boys Band. President Moore gave a rousing talk. State Commissioner Chester Rowell and Chairman of the Exposition Committee on Military Affairs, Special Events and Athletics Director Mullaly both gave speeches encouraging the athletes and hoping for fair play in competition. The next day saw the beginning of track and field competitions. The individual performer of the day was Martin House of Riverside, having scored 15 points in the broad jump and hurdles. The meet championship was won by local Lowell High School. This marked the first championship event on the ground.

The St. Patrick’s Day Games marked the opening of the athletic season. Events included the 100 yard and 220 yard dash, the quarter mile, the mile, shot put, high and long jump. There was Irish Hurling, while teams from Oakland and San Francisco contested a Gaelic football match, on the Marina.

The Y.M.C.A. Hall hosted the Amateur Athletic Union Championship, a national gymnastics competition, on March 26 and March 27. Competitors traveled from Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Newark, among others, competed in the horizontal bars, parallel bars, long horse, rings, tumbling and rope climbing.


A single person could have spent 24 hours a day at the expo - every day the expo was open - and still not have seen it all...

Visit the Exposition Palaces where the world showcased their very best

Head west of the main exposition grounds to visit the State Buildings

Take a tour of the world as you walk along the Avenue of Nations and view the Foreign Pavilions

The Presidio has a long military history. See how the Military's Role shaped the expo.

Visit the most sensational sixty five acres at the exposition along The "Joy" Zone

Aviators, athletes and drivers competed during the year of the exposition in many types of Sports and Athletics

For More Information:

To see more photos and maps, please visit the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition home page.

To learn more about the events leading up to the fair, visit Prologue to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.

To learn about the legacy of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition and its impact on San Francisco, please visit The Legacy of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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