Events and People

Athletic Stars of the Sesquicentennial

The few spectators who braved high temperatures and pouring rains to attend the American Athletic Union (A.A.U.) National Track and Field Championships at the Sesquicentennial were able to view record-breaking athletic performances by many former and future Olympic athletes. A previous blog entry discusses the accomplishments of Lillian Copeland, a triple gold winner in shot put, discus, and javelin. In addition to Copeland, other well-known athletes traveled to Philadelphia to attempt to win championships.

Phillip Osif, a student at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, gained national press attention when he won the six mile race in both the junior and senior men’s divisions at the Sesquicentennial competition. Osif beat Louis Gregory of Newark to win the junior title on July 3, 1926. Two days later on July 5, Osif trailed Ove Anderson from Finland for three miles before passing him to easily win the senior championship with a championship record time of 31:31. Osif continued to compete for the Haskell Institute throughout 1927. A member of the Pima tribe from Arizona, Osif was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977.

Another championship record was set by Clarence “Bud” Houser in the men’s discus competition. A well-known athlete in the weights events, Houser won gold in both shot put and discus at the 1924 Olympics while a student at the University of Southern California. The winner of the discus event at the 1925 A.A.U championships, Houser successfully defended his title in 1926 and set a new championship record of 153 feet 6.5 inches. Houser won gold again in discus at the 1928 Olympic games and was known for developing a technique of rapidly rotating around the circle before releasing the discus. After retiring from competition, Houser became a practicing dentist in California. He was inducted into USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1979.

Several women, some of whom would also compete in the Olympics, broke several championship records as well. Frances Davies, Jessie Glover, Florence Belle, and Rosa Grosse, competitors on the Toronto athletic team, won the 440 yard relay in 51 seconds, equaling the world record. Elta Cartwright tied the championship record for the 50 yard dash with a time of 6.1 seconds, successfully defending her title in the 50 yard dash from the 1925 championship. Nicknamed “Cinder” Elta, Cartwright qualified for the 1928 Olympic games in the 100 yard dash. While traveling to the Olympics in Amsterdam, Cartwright fell ill. Although she was able to compete, she was eventually eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100 yard dash. After retiring from athletic competition, Cartwright became a teacher.

Cartwright, Houser, and Osif are just a few of the many athletes who competed at the A.A.U. National Track and Field Championships at the Sesquicentennial. Despite the high caliber of competition, one newspaper reporter estimated that the inclement weather conditions caused as few as 350 spectators to attend one day of the competition. While the competition, like many other events at the Sesquicentennial, suffered poor attendance due to weather, hosting the athletic championship provides another example of one of the many ways that Sesquicentennial officials attempted to draw crowds to the Exposition.


Events and People Historic Sites

Richard Allen and the Founding of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church

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Throughout the 1700 and 1800s, Philadelphia was home to a large community of free African-Americans, many of whom were descendants of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to America. Members of the community formed churches, schools, businesses, and charitable societies. One of these churches, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, would become an important part of the community and influence African-American religious life throughout the country.

The history of Mother Bethel is inextricably bound up with the history of its founder, Richard Allen. Born into a slave-holding household in Philadelphia in 1760, Allen and his family were later sold to Stokeley Sturgis, a farmer in Delaware. In 1777 at the age of 17, Allen became a religious believer after hearing the preaching of a traveling Methodist pastor. Allen convinced his master to allow a minister to preach at the farm. When Sturgis heard the abolition influenced sermon, he agreed to allow Allen to buy his freedom. After three years of working nights and odd jobs, Allen became a free man at the age of 20.

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For the next few years, Allen supported himself by taking manual labor jobs while traveling extensively through several states and preaching on the Methodist circuit. In 1786, Allen was invited to preach to African-American members at St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia where he was required to lead services at 5am so as to not interfere with the worship of the white congregants. As the African-American membership at St. George’s grew under Allen’s leadership, racial tensions in the congregation also increased. In 1787, Allen and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society, an organization to provide aid to members of the black community. When Allen, Jones, and other African-Americans left St. George’s in protest of racial discrimination, they turned to the Free African Society as a source of religious leadership. The Society under Jones’ leadership would eventually organize the African Church, now known as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, in 1792. Allen, however, wished to maintain a connection with the Methodist church and purchased land at 6th and Lombard Streets for the construction of a church. On July 29, 1794, Bethel Church was dedicated at the location. Facing interference from other Methodist congregations, Allen successfully fought in court for the right of Bethel to exist as an independent congregation. In 1816, Bethel joined with other black Methodist congregations to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Bethel became Mother Bethel and Allen was appointed the first bishop of the church.

Allen and Mother Bethel continued to play a role in the life of the free African-American community of Philadelphia. The church served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Allen remained an active leader of the church working for the rights of free and enslaved African-Americans. Constructed in the 1890s, the current Mother Bethel church building still sits at 6th and Lombard on the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States continuously owned by African-Americans. Richard Allen died on March 26, 1831. He and his wife Sarah are interred in a lower level of the church.


“About Us…History.” The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

“About Us – Our History.” African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“History of the AME Church.” Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Richard Allen.” Africans in America. PBS Online.

Historic Sites

Entering America: The Washington Avenue Immigration Station

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In the early 1600s, Europeans began arriving in the Philadelphia area, inhabited at the time by members of the Lenape tribe. Over the next four hundred years, immigrants, affected by various social, political, geographic, and economic factors, would continue to leave their countries of origin and settle in Philadelphia. While the population of the United States grew throughout this time period, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw an especially large boom in the growth of cities. As the American population shifted from predominantly rural to predominantly urban, immigrants also began settling in cities in large numbers.

Despite its location over a hundred miles from the ocean, Philadelphia served as the port of entry for 1.3 million immigrants from 1815 to 1985. In 1873, two steamship lines, the American Line and the Red Star line, began regular steamship service between Europe and Philadelphia. Other companies also began offering service to Philadelphia including the Hamburg-American Line, which operated runs between Hamburg, Germany and Philadelphia beginning in 1898. From 1873 until the enacting of stricter immigration quotas in 1924, over one million immigrants arrived in Philadelphia. These immigrants received health inspections at various locations on the Delaware River before disembarking at the immigration stations in Philadelphia and passing through customs.

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The Washington Avenue Immigration Station, the first of these stations, was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1870s on a pier located where Washington Avenue approaches the Delaware River. After completing all their paperwork at the station, some immigrants found employment and housing in Philadelphia while others traveled on to different locations. Since the station was owned by the railroad, train tickets were readily available for purchase, and many immigrants chose to board trains for destinations throughout the United States. The Washington Avenue Station was demolished in 1915.

As in cities across the country, the increase in immigration to Philadelphia brought new cultural customs and traditions as well as ethnic and economic tensions that influenced the development of the city and continue to have an effect on American history and policy today.

Miller, Fredric M. “Immigration through the Port of Philadelphia.” In Forgotten Doors: The Other Ports of Entry to the United States, edited by M. Mark Stolarik, 37-54. Philadelphia: Balch Institute Press, 1988.

Miller, Fredric M. “Philadelphia: Immigrant City.” Balch Online Resources.

Sitarski, Stephen M. “From Weccacoe to South Philadelphia: The Changing Face of a Neighborhood.” Pennsylvania Legacies 7, no. 2 (November 2007).

Events and People

Poinsett and Smith and the 1914 Occupation of Veracruz

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With photographs of quiet neighborhood streets, busy commercial districts, schools, stores, trolleys, parks, and dozens of other aspects of daily urban life, the images on provide a beautiful visual history of change and development in the communities throughout Philadelphia.

Often, though, there are photos on that not only tell the story of Philadelphia’s past but also demonstrate the role that Philadelphians have played in events throughout the country and around the world. A series of photographs of the 1914 funeral of two sailors, George Poinsett and Charles Allen Smith, provides just one example of the internationally significant events depicted on PhillyHistory.

By 1914, the United States government had spent several years cautiously watching the Mexican Revolution and judging its possible impact on American citizens and business interests both in Mexico and along the border between the two countries. To protect these interests, the United States stationed U.S. Navy warships at the Mexican ports of Tampico and Vera Cruz in early 1914.[1] At the same time, President Woodrow Wilson rescinded an arms embargo that had prevented the sale of arms to either General Victorio Huerta, who had seized power from the Mexican president in February 1913, or Governor Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa, supporters of the previous president who were attempting to wrest control of Mexico from Huerta. President Wilson offered to provide help to Carranza. When the US forces at Vera Cruz learned that German weapons would be arriving at Vera Cruz for Huerta, President Wilson ordered them to seize the town’s customhouse and capture the weapons.[2]

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On April 21, 1914, 787 marines and sailors went ashore to seize the customhouse and were fired upon by Mexican forces. By April 22, the American troops had occupied the town. In two days of fighting, 17 Americans were killed and 61 wounded. An estimated 152-172 Mexicans were killed and 195-240 wounded. American forces would continue to occupy Vera Cruz until November 1914.[3]

Among the seventeen Americans killed during the initial occupation of Vera Cruz were Seaman George Poinsett and Ordinary Seaman Charles Allen Smith, both of Philadelphia. Eyewitnesses to the events stated that Poinsett was the first man killed during the occupation and “was shot by a Mexican sharpshooter while raising the flag on the Plaza following the first landing of marines.”[4] After the battle, the bodies of the seventeen men arrived in New York City on May 11, 1914 aboard the battleship Montana. The coffins were placed on caissons and then traveled from the Montana at Pier A past City Hall to the Navy Yard. At the Navy Yard, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a funeral oration during a ceremony that was attended by the Governor of New York, the Secretary of the Navy, and various other officials and citizens.[5]

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After the ceremony, the bodies of the men were shipped to their relatives. As shown in the photographs on, Poinsett and Smith were given a funeral in Philadelphia with a procession beginning at Independence Square. Unfortunately, there are few additional details available about the ceremony.

The American occupation of Vera Cruz in 1914 may not be as well known as other military events in United States history. At the time of its occurrence, however, it signaled America’s increased involvement in political and military affairs in Mexico. These photographs on show Philadelphia’s connection to one international event that significantly impacted relations between Mexico and the United States and influenced future actions between the countries.

[1] Yockelson, Mitchell. “The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 1.” Prologue 29:3, Fall 1997.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Russel, Thomas Herbert. Mexico in Peace and War. Sumner C. Britton: Chicago, 1914, p. 22.

[5] New York Times. “Vera Cruz Dead Here on Warship.” May 11, 1914.


The Dempsey-Tunney Fight of 1926

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Among the many events at the Sesquicentennial, perhaps none drew as much attention and publicity as the world’s heavyweight title fight between defending champion Jack Dempsey and challenger Gene Tunney. Held at the Sesquicentennial Municipal Stadium on September 23, 1926, the boxing match drew a crowd of over 120,000 people and became one of the best known fights of the 1920s.

Although Tex Rickard, the promoter for the fight, originally investigated staging the match in Chicago or Jersey City, he eventually arranged for it to be held on September 16, 1926 at Yankee Stadium in New York. These arrangements had to be abandoned, however, when the License Committee of the New York State Athletic Commission refused to issue Dempsey a license to box in New York. Rather than fight the decision in court, Rickard chose to accept the offer of E.L. Austin, Director of the Sesquicentennial, to hold the match at the Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia on September 23.[1]

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The decision to move the match to Philadelphia was warmly welcomed by residents of the city. Boxing was hugely popular in the 1920s. As Tunney prepared for his match with Dempsey, a crowd of 2,000 people came just to watch him spar twelve rounds with two workout partners on August 15, 1926.[2] On that same day, more than 1,000 people paid $1 each plus tax to watch Dempsey during his workout at Saratoga Springs, New York.[3] The New York Times published 75 articles on the fight preparations in August and September alone and ran a three-tiered front page headline as well as nine full pages of coverage the day after the fight.[4] While tickets to the fight sold quickly, not everyone approved of the bout being held at the Sesquicentennial. One letter to the New York Times argued that the fight was being held to “bolster up deficient receipts” at the Sesquicentennial and that it was “disgraceful and humiliating (or should be) to the American people.”[5]

Plenty of Americans did not find the fight disgraceful or humiliating at all. The match was attended by both the mayor of Philadelphia and the mayor of New York City as well as Pennsylvania Governor Pinchot, several other governors from across the country, Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur, and many millionaires and members of well-known families.[6] Extra trains brought crowds from New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and dozens of other places. People around the world eagerly listened for radio and telegraph reports regarding the outcome of the match.

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After ten rounds fought in the pouring rain, Tunney defeated Dempsey to claim the title of world’s heavy-weight champion. Although the match did not end in a knockout, Tunney is said to have been “a complete master, from first bell to last. He out-boxed and he out-fought Dempsey at every turn.”[7] In meticulous detail, the New York Times summarizes the fight and notes Tunney’s strategic and calculated responses to the more rushed and ineffectual charges by Dempsey. One year later on September 22, 1927, Tunney would successfully defend his title and defeat Dempsey again at Soldier Field in Chicago in a fight that came to be known as The Long Count.

The Dempsey-Tunney boxing match drew incredible crowds to the Sesquicentennial and demonstrates the extreme popularity of boxing during the 1920s. The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce estimated that the crowds likely brought an additional $3,000,000 in revenue to city businesses through purchases of meals, hotel rooms, train and taxi rides, and other items.[8] The match helped boost Sesquicentennial attendance numbers while also showing that many members of the public now favored public sporting events to world’s fairs as a way to spend their leisure time and money.

[1] New York Times, “Dempsey Title Bout Suddenly Shifted to Philadelphia.” August 19, 1926.

[2] New York Times, “Tunney Boxes Twelve Rounds; 2,000 Attend the Workout.” August 16, 1926.

[3] New York Times, “1,000 Pay $1 Each to Watch Dempsey.” August 16, 1926.

[4] Pope, Steven W. “Negotiating the ‘Folk Highway’ of the Nation: Sport, Public Culture and American Identity, 1870-1940.” Journal of Social History Vol 27 No 2. (Winter, 1993): p. 327-340.

[5] French, Joseph Lewis. “Disapproval of Sesqui Fight.” New York Times. September 12, 1926.

[6] Davis, Elmer. “Victory is Popular One.” New York Times. September 24, 1926.

[7] Dawson, James P. “Tunney Always Master.” New York Times. September 24, 1926.

[8] New York Times. “Philadelphia Sees Bout a Great Boon.” September 25, 1926.

Historic Sites

Mapping the Sesquicentennial

Many of the photographs in the Philadelphia Department of Records City Archives’ collection are associated with a particular location. As photographers from the City’s Photography Unit traveled around Philadelphia capturing images of construction projects, school yards, busy commercial districts, and residential areas, they often noted the address or intersection where the photograph was taken. The other collections available on the photographs from the Philadelphia Water Department, the property maps from the Department of Records, and the historic maps from the Free Library- are also very geographic in nature and usually connected to a specific place in the city. Using the address or intersection associated with an image, a photo can be geocoded (mapped) to that location. Once a photograph has been geocoded in, it can be found using the address or neighborhood search, making it convenient to view photos or maps based on the location where they were taken.Like the other photographs and maps on, the collection of photographs from the Sesquicentennial International Exposition has a geographic element. The majority of the photographs were taken on the Sesquicentennial grounds in the area around the intersection of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue by present-day FDR Park and the stadiums. Many of the photographs depict buildings, attractions, or exhibits at the Sesquicentennial but do not give specific addresses or intersections where these places were located. Thanks to the staff at the City Archives, a copy of the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition General Plan was located (also available in the “Sesquicentennial Exposition” article on Wikipedia). This plan, published in the Sesquicentennial Promotional Booklet 1926, provided a map of many of the buildings on the Sesquicentennial grounds and showed the main roads that ran through the area- Broad Street, Pattison Avenue, Packer Avenue, and Moyamensing Avenue.While those four streets have remained the same, the rest of the area had changed considerably from the time of the Sesquicentennial in 1926 to the present. Streets that were created for the Sesquicentennial no longer exist, and areas that were open land in 1926 are now filled with roads and buildings. Using the Sesquicentennial General Plan, it was easy to see where the buildings existed in 1926, but the changing landscape made it much trickier to match those 84 year old locations with a Philadelphia street map from 2008. Since the geocoding system uses current street maps, it was necessary to find some way to sync the older map with the newer map in order to accurately geocode the photographs.

The solution to the problem came in the form of a piece of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping software. One of the software developers used the software to overlay the historic Sesquicentennial map with a current Philadelphia street map. To ensure that the maps had the same orientation, he found several points that were in the same location on both maps- the intersections of Oregon Avenue and Moyamensing Avenue, Broad Street and Packer Avenue, and Broad Street and Pattison Avenue. By lining up the two maps using these three intersections, a reliable composite map of the two images was made. To download a copy of the map, visit Azavea Commons. Azavea is the software company who created for the Philadelphia Department of Records.

This two-layer map proved to be a valuable tool for geocoding the Sesquicentennial photographs. Using the historic map, staff could see that the Nuremberg section of the Exposition was located south of Packer Avenue and several blocks west of Broad Street but could not determine a more accurate location. With the two-layer map, however, it was easy to see that the Nuremberg area was located precisely at what is now the intersection of 18th Street and Schley Street. Thanks to the assistance of the software developers and Archives staff, the team was able to geocode a large number of Sesquicentennial photos, making them easy to locate on and providing an illustration of how technology can help us relate the past to the present.

Historic Sites

Recreating the Philadelphia of 1776

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The preparations for the Sesquicentennial as well as all the events, activities, and buildings that were a part of the celebration required a large amount of organization and management. The administration of the Sesquicentennial was performed by a Board of Directors, an Executive Committee, and a variety of individual committees (including the Automobile Traffic Committee, Music Committee, and Publicity Committee) that managed specific areas of the Exposition.

Although the Board of Directors and various committees included female members, a separate Women’s Committee was also formed on October 16, 1925. The group originally included one hundred members appointed by Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick, the Mayor of Philadelphia and President of the Sesquicentennial, with Mrs. J. Willis Martin serving as leader of the Women’s Board. On February 8, 1926, the group decided to become a large general committee. This committee would eventually have over two thousands members and include over forty sub-committees.[1]

Among their many contributions, the Women’s Committee promoted the Sesquicentennial across the country, served as hostesses and greeters at several Exposition buildings, and established and maintained information booths at hotels, railroad stations, and other locations across Philadelphia.[2] The Women’s Committee, as well as many members of the Board of Directors and visitors to the Exposition, considered their greatest contribution to be the construction and management of High Street, a recreation of High Street (later known as Market Street) in Philadelphia in 1776 that included 20 houses, the Market Place, the Town Hall, and several gardens. Each house such as the Girard Counting House, Franklin Print Shoppe, and Jefferson House was maintained by a different women’s organization and decorated in a style consistent with the Revolutionary period.[3] Activities on the street included appearances by the town crier, daily marionette performances, and weekly pageants. High Street saw a large amount of visitors during the Sesquicentennial and one newspaper reporter wrote that “here is another place to linger, and many do linger.”[4]

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While High Street attracted many visitors, it also presented an idealized view of American history. Dirt, lawlessness, discord, and injustice did not exist in the reconstructed High Street. One hostess who spoke with visitors on High Street saw the reconstruction as a way to demonstrate that the country’s beginnings were dignified rather than chaotic and tawdry.[5] High Street at the Sesquicentennial was one of several living history museums and parks that were formed beginning in the 1920s. These institutions, such as Colonial Williamsburg and Greenfield Village, would prove popular among visitors but also become the object of debate regarding the accuracy of their representations of history.

As an attraction at the Sesquicentennial, High Street showed the commitment of large numbers of women and women’s organizations to the Exposition. Although the Sesquicentennial did not achieve financial success and suffered from disorganization and low attendance, High Street proved to be a popular attraction according to the fair’s organizers who stated that it “was a source of renewed confidence in the deep foundations of American life, and as such it undoubtedly had a lasting effect on the millions who visited it.”[6]

[1] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 153.

[2] Ibid., 157-158.

[3] Ibid., 161-162.

[4] The New York Times. “Sesquicentennial is Now Complete.” August 22, 1926.

[5] Conn, Steven. Museums and American Intellectual Life: 1876-1926. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, 241.

[6] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 20.

Events and People

Lillian Copeland: Sesquicentennial Athletic Star

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Among the many events and activities at the Sesquicentennial were several athletic competitions held at the Municipal Stadium at the intersection of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue. These competitions included everything from track and field meets to the world heavy-weight boxing championship between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney to a lacrosse match between the Caughnawaga Indians of Canada and the Onondaga Tribe of Syracuse.[1]

In early July 1926, National and Olympic caliber athletes traveled to Philadelphia to compete in the women’s, senior men’s, and junior men’s American Athletic Union (A.A.U.) National Track and Field Championships. During the competition, the athletes faced extreme heat mixed with rain, conditions which prevented many spectators from attending the meets. Despite the weather conditions, world, American, and meet records were broken by the athletes.[2]

Lillian Copeland, one of the world record breakers, was a star of the 1926 Women’s National Track and Field Championships held at the Sesquicentennial. A member of the Pasadena (CA) Athletic Club, Copeland broke the world record in javelin with a throw of 112 feet 5.5 inches. On that same day, July 10, 1926, she also won both the discus and shot put competitions to become the only triple winner of the day.[3] During her career, Copeland won a total of nine AAU National Championships- five in shot put, two in javelin, and two in discus. She is often considered to be one of the first great female American weight throwers.[4] The 1926 competition in Philadelphia was the only championship in which she won all three weights events.

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Copeland’s skill also made her competitive on an international level. At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Copeland won a silver medal in discus with a throw of 121 feet 8 inches.[5] In 1932 at the Los Angeles Olympics, she won gold in discus with a world-record setting throw of 133 feet 2 inches.[6] Copeland was the only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in discus until the 2008 Beijing Olympics when American Stephanie Brown-Trafton won gold with a throw of 212 feet 5 inches.[7]

After her success in the 1932 Olympics, Copeland competed in the second Maccabiah Games in 1935, a competition for Jewish athletes, where she won gold. The next year Copeland joined several other Jewish athletes in a boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, making the Maccabiah Games her last major competition.[8] After her athletic career, Copeland worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as a juvenile officer. She passed away on July 7, 1964 and was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1994.

[1] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 424.

[2] Kelley, Robert F. “2 More Records Set in Women’s Meet.” The New York Times. July 11, 1926.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Lillian Copeland.” Hall of Fame- USA Track and Field.

[5] “Lillian Copeland.” International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

[6] Shaffer, George. “U.S. Wins 2 Olympic Titles; Records Fall.” The New York Times. August 3, 1932.

[7] Crumpacker, John. “U.S. Women’s 1st Discus Gold Since ’32.” The San Francisco Chronicle. August 19, 2008.

[8] “Lillian Copeland.” International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.


Events and People

USS Los Angeles: A Naval Dirigible

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With the Exposition grounds located adjacent to the Navy Yard at League Island, the U.S. Navy and the military in general were very involved in the Sesquicentennial Exposition. The Navy developed a Navy Historical Exhibit in one of the buildings in the yard, and several different types of ships were moored at the Reserve Basin near Navy Yard. Camp Anthony Wayne, a model Army camp, was created in League Island Park and Camp Samuel Nicholas, a model Marine camp, was located just outside the Navy Yard within the grounds of the Exposition.[1]


The U.S. Navy’s contributions to the Sesquicentennial also included a visit from the Navy’s dirigible the Los Angeles. On Friday, September 10, the dirigible flew over Philadelphia, circled part of the Exposition several times, and then landed on the Exposition grounds with the help of a landing party of 200 sailors. Under the control of Commander Charles H. Rosendahl, the dirigible’s home port was located in Lakehurst, New Jersey. After the visit to the Sesquicentennial, the Los Angeles traveled to Stroudsburg, PA where the State American Legion was in session.[2]

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The golden age of dirigibles, also known as rigid airships and zeppelins, occurred from roughly 1900 until the 1930s. The first dirigible successfully lifted off on November 3, 1897 near Berlin, Germany. Although this dirigible crashed shortly after lift off, governments in several countries continued to investigate the use of dirigibles or rigid airships for military and transportation purposes. By the early twentieth century, the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin was the major manufacturer of rigid airships. These dirigibles would serve as both weapons and observational tools during World War I. Germany used dirigibles to drop bombs on Paris and London while both France and England used semi-rigid and non-rigid airships to patrol their coasts, provide convoy protection, and spot enemy submarines.[3]

After World War I, mandates prevented Germany from building dirigibles. The United States government, however, allowed the Zeppelin company to build one airship that would be given to the United States by Germany as partial war reparations.[4] As part of the agreement between the nations, the ship was to be used only for “civil” purposes. Built in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the rigid airship was 2,472,000 cubic feet and completed in August 1924.[5] Known initially as the ZR-3, the ship flew across the Atlantic in mid-October 1924 and docked at its home port of Lakehurst, New Jersey. The airship flew to Washington D.C. on November 25 where it was christened the Los Angeles by Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, the wife of the president, and then placed into naval commission by Rear Admiral B.F. Hutchinson.[6] During its career in the U.S. Navy, the Los Angeles performed flights to explore the use of rigid airships in the military. The airship also made several trips across the US and took part in research into the possibility of basing airplanes on board airships.  In late 1932, the Los Angeles was decommissioned and put into storage at Lakehurst, New Jersey. From 1934 to 1937, the airship participated in non-flying experiments before finally being dismantled beginning in October 1939.[7]

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While little is known about the visit of the Los Angeles to the Sesquicentennial, its appearance at the Exposition provides an illustration of the growth of airship manufacturing in the early decades of the twentieth century. Along with the Los Angeles, the U.S. Navy operated other rigid airships including the Shenandoah (destroyed on September 3, 1925 in a storm over Ohio) and two ships built by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company- the Akron (lost in a storm over the Atlantic Ocean on April 4, 1933) and the Macon (crashed in the Pacific Ocean on February 12, 1935).[8] After the 1930s and the Hindenburg disaster on May 9, 1937, interest in rigid airships declined in favor of further investigation into a variety of airplanes and aircraft carriers.

[1] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 183-188.

[2] Ibid., p. 303.

[3] Rumerman, Judy. “The Era of the Dirigible.” U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission

[4] Ibid.

[5] “USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), Airship 1924-1939.” Department of the Navy- Naval Historical Center.

[6] The Washington Post.  “ZR-3 is Christened ‘Los Angeles’ and Dedicated to Peace.” November 26, 1924.

[7] “USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), Airship 1924-1939.” Department of the Navy- Naval Historical Center.

[8] Rumerman, Judy. “The Era of the Dirigible.” U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission

Events and People

A Royal Visit to the Sesquicentennial

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In an effort to draw additional visitors to the Sesquicentennial Exposition, special days were set aside to celebrate and honor various countries, states, cities, and groups. These celebration days included Missouri Day, Finnish Day, National Puzzlers’ Day, Pittsburgh Day, and University of Michigan Alumni Day. Activities on each day often included special programs, luncheons, banquets, and visits from dignitaries and honorees.[1]

Swedish Day on June 6 was one of the first celebration days to occur during the Sesquicentennial, taking place even before all of the landscaping and building on the grounds was completed. As part of the festivities, Crown Prince Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and his wife princess Louise had visited the Exposition four days earlier on June 2, 1926. During their visit, the Crown Prince and Princess took part in two ceremonies- the dedication of the reproduction of the Wicaco Block House and the laying of the cornerstone for the John Morton Memorial Building.[2] They also reviewed an infantry battalion and visited the Navy Yard.

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Now known as the American Swedish Historical Museum, the John Morton Memorial Building is one of the few structures remaining from the Sesquicentennial. Although the cornerstone for the building was laid on June 2, 1926 and construction was almost completed by October 1927, the Great Depression and subsequent lack of funding prevented the exhibit halls from being completed until the mid-1930s. On June 28, 1938, an exhibition in honor of the tercentenary of the arrival of Swedes in the area was opened by Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, who had also laid the cornerstone for the building back in 1926. This event effectively served as the public dedication of the building.[3] Located at 1900 Pattison Avenue in FDR Park in the original building, the Museum remains open to the public and provides exhibits and educational programs that focus on Swedish heritage and the contributions of Swedish-Americans to the United States.

A stop at the Sesquicentennial to lay the cornerstone for the Morton Memorial Building was just one of many excursions planned for the Crown Prince and Princess during their trip to America. The Prince and Princess, along with a large entourage, arrived in New York City on Thursday, May 27, 1926. After greeting Mayor Walker at City Hall and providing reporters with an interview, the group traveled to Washington D.C. where they met with President Calvin Coolidge. During their time in Washington, the Crown Prince spoke at the unveiling of a monument to John Ericsson, the designer of the Union warship Monitor; attended Memorial Day services at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; and toured sights in the city.[4] From Washington D.C., the group travelled back to New York and then to Philadelphia where they took part in the Sesquicentennial celebrations. After their visit to Philadelphia, the royal couple toured America until August 1, including visits to Boston, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Minneapolis, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and San Francisco. The trip through the United States was just part of a world tour; from San Francisco, the Crown Prince and Princess set sail for Asia.[5]

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While the Sesquicentennial did not have as much international participation as previous world’s fairs in Chicago and St. Louis, foreign dignitaries such as the delegation from Sweden did take part in activities on specific celebration days. Often, though, these dignitaries were the ministers or ambassadors from their country to the United States rather than the actual foreign leader. For example, Polish Day on September 5 included a visit from Jan Ciechanowski, Minister of Poland, and Peruvian Day on July 28 saw a visit from Dr. Hernan Velarde, the Peruvian Ambassador to the United States.[6] Despite their efforts to encourage attendance, the Sesquicentennial Exposition did not attract foreign leaders in large numbers.


[1] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 376-379.

[2] Ibid., 193.

[3] American Swedish Historical Museum. “History of the Museum.”

[4]New York Times. “Swedish Royalty Due Here Thursday.” May 25, 1926.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Austin and Hauser. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, p. 382-388.