On this dayFeb 20, 1915

Panama-Pacific International Exposition Showcases Nation’s Advancements in Eugenics

Image | Poster Art for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

In the first half of the 20th century, many politicians, scientists, and policymakers subscribed to racist beliefs about biological differences between white and nonwhite people. They resorted to laws that support sterilization and ethnic cleansing to advance white supremacy and racial hierarchy.

On February 20, 1915, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) opened in San Francisco. The nine-month fair commemorated the completion of the Panama Canal and was intended to re-reveal San Francisco to the world after its devastating Great Earthquake of 1906. The fair, which hosted thousands of people, was wildly aspirational as it attempted to “curate the planet” and showcase humanity’s many achievements in science, technology, and the arts.

One of the central themes of the fair came to be that of modern advances in public health and “race betterment.” At the PPIE’s Palace of Education and Social Economy, eugenics ideology was prominently displayed and promoted as cutting edge in our nation’s desire to achieve race betterment. The practice of eugenics–or the forced sterilization and selective breeding of the human race in order to “improve” the gene pool–has a long and troubled history in the United States and its celebrated preeminence at the PPIE in 1915 goes to show how deeply entrenched the ideology was at the time.

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