The 1894 Midwinter Exposition

The fair's electrical behind-the-scenes, as described (verbosely!) in
"The Official History of the California Midwinter International Exposition"



If there was any one feature of the Midwinter Exposition which is deserving of special mention in connection with the official record of the success achieved by that enterprise, that feature is the development of the electrical system which gave to the Exposition its illumination, and which the Exposition its illumination, and which lent itself so readily to the wonderful spectacles of the Bonet Tower and the great prismatic fountain. The electrical attained at the Exposition were the more remarkable from the fact that, in view of the uncertainty of the financial plant, and everything that was accomplished was carried forward on the basis of strict economy. The credit for the accomplishment of so much at so small an expense is due to W.F.C. Hasson, the Chief of the Electrical Department, and to A.M. Hunt, the Chief of the Department of Mechanical Arts. Mr. Hasson was an ex-Naval officer, and Mr. Hunt was a Past Assistant Engineer in the United States Navy, granted leave of absence during the term of the Exposition, though he has since resigned from the Government service. The work of these two gentlemen was so closely associated in the development of this feature of the Exposition that the record of what they accomplished must necessarily combine many of the detailed workings of the two departments over which they presided.

 Electric Tower

When the electrical illumination of the Exposition first came under discussion two serious problems were presented. An artistic success must be achieved, and this must be done without anything like the expense which was incurred at Chicago. Economy must be the keynote of operation. It was not necessary, of course, to have as many lights as were used at the Columbian Exposition, but it was absolutely essential that each light, whatever the number, should be installed at much less cost than had been the case at Chicago. The manner in which Mr. Hasson, assisted by the mechanical engineering efforts of Mr. Hunt, attained the object for which he worked, can be best illustrated by the statement that while at Chicago every incandescent electric lamp cost $5.30; the cost of each lamp at the Midwinter Exposition was $1.50.

The contrast between these figures becomes more striking when it is remembered that at Chicago some of the most prominent electricians of the United States did everything in their power to provide the electrical illumination as cheaply as possible. A great deal of the saving in this expense was accomplished through a reduction in the cost of wiring. At Chicago every lamp was wired separately. Mr. Hasson's method at San Francisco was to wire the lamps in series of five. By wiring in such series it was necessary to use only one-twenty fifth of the amount of copper wire which would necessarily be used if the lamps were wired separately. At the very outset, therefore, an enormous expense was saved. This system of wiring in series has for some time been in vogue on railroads, but had never been adopted on such an elaborate scale as at this Exposition To follow the example set at Chicago would perhaps have been safe and absolutely secure. To attempt the new scheme was to face a strong element of uncertainty. If one lamp in a series should go out it would disturb the other four, and thus interfere with the entire illumination. The first experiment, however, made with the series system, showed that the Exposition management had actually secured for $1.50 the same effect which it had cost the Columbian Exposition $5.30 to obtain.

It would be a difficult matter to determine the relative economy of the entire lighting of the California Exposition. The electric plant could only be looked upon as an emergency plant, and could not be established on the same basis as a commercial plant. The only temporary lighting plant of a similar nature, operated under equal conditions, with which it is possible to compare it, was the one at the Columbian Exposition. At Chicago, however, the industrial center of the United States, there was ample time to prepare plans and secure competing bids, and the company securing the contract for the incandescent lighting was required to deposit a bond of $500,000 as a guarantee of the fulfillment of the contract. At the Midwinter Exposition, through the personal efforts of the Director-General, who went on to Chicago when the decision regarding a general electric illumination was reached, valuable concessions from the railways were obtained for the transportation of electrical machinery, and the electrical companies were so impressed as to the magnitude of the Exposition as to believe that the gain from a display of their machines in operation would more than counterbalance the expense incurred by loaning them. The result was that the total expense to the Midwinter Exposition for the transportation and rentals of machines and lamps was less than six thousand dollars for materials which, on the basis of rentals paid at the Columbian Exposition, would have cost forty-five thousand dollars. It may be fairly estimated, therefore, that in this item alone there was a comparative saving of nearly forty thousand dollars.

The successful illumination of the Exposition was entirely dependent on the rapid installation and successful operation the boiler and engine plants. A complication was encountered in this connection, early in the history of the Exposition, by the declaration of prominent engine builders of San Francisco, that their support of the Exposition would depend largely upon whether the Executive Committee would agree to use only engines manufactured on the Pacific Coast. Eastern parties who had offered to furnish electrical facilities insisted that engines must be designed to fit the machines they operated, and before this problem was successfully worked out it really looked as if the illumination of the Exposition would be very meager indeed. The engines, boilers, and dynamos, necessary for furnishing the proposed illumination, could not have been purchased and installed for less than $200,000. The Executive Committee could not for a moment contemplate such an expense, and their only salvation came through the successful efforts that were made to induce the various manufacturing companies to loan machinery and to operate their engines as exhibits.

Pacific Coast engine-builders were finally aroused to the great commercial advantages of the Exposition, and several of them seized the opportunity afforded in the enterprise of calling attention to the excellent quality of their machines. The representatives of Eastern companies furnished a number of high-speed engines suitable for the operation of arc-light machines, and then came up the question of fuel. The disadvantages arising from the use of coal were definitely recognized, but oil was out of the question at the prices quoted in San Francisco. An arrangement was subsequently made, however, with the Union Oil Company, and the boiler plant which was at first installed was retained simply as one of the attractive exhibits of the Exposition, and to meet a possible contingency. The boilers were painted white, and were kept without a stain. Between two of them a pair of crossed shovels were hung, tied with a pure white ribbon, in token of the triumph achieved over dust and dirt.

Electric Tower
                        shining on Strawberry Hill

It was impossible to have all the electrical effects in readiness at the time of the official opening of the Exposition. The are-light system was in readiness, however, and was first put in operation on the evening of January 27, 1894, the occasion of the grand ceremonial opening demonstration. The Exposition remained closed during the evenings until February 3rd, and after that date there was no interruption in the lighting service. Incandescent service was furnished from February 13 to July 9th, with but a single interruption of four hours due to the breaking of the valve gear of an intried engine. Incandescent service was given from from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 P. M. for one hundred and forty-nine days. The total service offered purchasers of light was 1,937 lamp hours, the charge for which was $8.00. Service of a similar nature could not have been obtained commercially in San Francisco for less than $15.50. Arc-light service was given for one hundred and fifty-four days, the charge being $75.00 per lamp. The same service could not have been obtained commercially for less than $86.00.

The general features of the illumination of the Exposition included the illumination of the grounds and main buildings by arc lights, the illumination of all Exposition offices by incandescent lights, the decorative illumination of the cornices of the main building facing the central plaza by means of incandescent lights, the decorative illumination of the Boriet Tower, the operation of the Electric Fountain, and the operation of the great search-lights. The Electrical Department experienced great difficulty in wiring the buildings for their decorative lights. The sockets and lamps had to be placed while the big structures were in process of construction, and painters and carpenters were constantly disturbing the arrangements made by the electricians. And yet the triumph was complete. The illumination of the Exposition buildings and of the central court was the sensation of the Exposition. The effect of the turning on of the two hundred arc lights which surrounded the court was surprising in itself, but when the three thousand incandescent lights with which the buildings were outlined came into view, the scene was beautiful beyond anything which had ever been seen in this part of the world.

These incandescent lights were run in continuous lines along the caves and up and down the spires and minarets of all the main buildings, outlining their prominent architectural points as accurately as the clear cutting of the cameo. The illumination of the Administration Building was particularly effective, the lines of incandescent lights outlining its dome, culminating in a great mass of light at the apex, and throwing the beautiful structure like a vivid picture against the dark background of the night. The illumination of the Agricultural and Horticultural Building was also particularly interesting. The broad, round glass dome of that structure presented an appearance, with its glittering surface reflecting a thousand incandescents, quite as beautiful as that of any of the handsome structures which were on this occasion seen at the best possible advanousand for thtage. The regular lines of the Egyptian structure, where the fine-art treasures were on exhibition, formed a pleasing contrast to the curved line illumination of some of the other buildings, and the irregular effects produced by the illumination of the turrets and deep cornices of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building all went to make up a picture of light that constituted one of the paramount attractions of the Exposition.

But there was a still greater attraction in the line of illumination when the wonderful Electric Tower shown forth in all its brilliancy. This feature was the result of an idea originally offered to the Midwinter Exposition management. It had been thought of by its projector, Leopold Bonet, before the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, but he was unable to make the necessary arrangements there. The tower itself was not so much of a novelty as an engineering construction, since it was somewhat after the same design as the famous Eiffel Tower, but in the matter of its illumination it was it was a decided novelty, and as decidedly an electrical sensation. The tower was two hundred and seventy-two feet high. In its illumination there were three thousand two hundred incandescent bulbs. One thousand of these were employed for outlining the tower, one the fixed decorative light effects, and twelve hundred in the changing geometrical designs.

The variations in the designs shown in incandescent lights on the four sides of the tower were in the form of spheres, Greek crosses, diamonds and irregular rosettes, one change following the other in quick and beautiful succession, the instrument of transformation being a controlling switch, the principle of which was somewhat similar to that of a music box, a revolving cylinder with wooden stops of different lengths. By shifting these blocks an infinite number of combinations could be made. It was something like playing one song in many keys, the length and position of the blocks determining the key. Several times each minute the cylinder completed a revolution, and in each revolution all the combinations of each design were shown. A more technical description of the automatic revolving switch, which controlled the disappearing figures on the tower, and which was situated on the lower or ground floor of that structure, gives some interesting details of its operation. The cylinder was eighty-five inches long and twelve inches in diameter, made up of a number of cast-iron disks set with five-eighths inch space between them. Each of the disks was furnished with holes and slots along the edge, through which bolts could be passed for securing pieces of hard wood, which projected three-fourths of an inch above the surface. These pieces were one-half of an inch wide, and curved and set concentric with the cylinder. They were of various lengths, depending upon the time the circuit was to be closed. Two rods, the length of the cylinder, were placed on each side, acting as centers upon which swung fifty-six bell cranks of cast brass. One main from the dynamo was connected with these centers, thus making the bell cranks a part of the electric circuit. The horizontal arms of these levers had holes formed by pieces of spring brass, bent round and bolted to the ends of the arms, and in these holes were secured, by spring pressure, short pieces of arc-light carbons, making contacts with corresponding pieces held in springs secured to circuit boards, one of which was placed on each side of the switch. The springs in which these second carbons were secured were quite stiff, so that the carbons could be pressed together with considerable force, and each spring was connected with a binding-post, by means of which it could be placed in a circuit leading to a group of lamps on the tower. Springs acting on the bell cranks kept the circuits broken at the carbon contacts, except at such times as they were pressed forward by the pieces on the revolving cylinder.

The cylinder was turned steadily by a one-half horse-power motor, the speed of which was much reduced by one spur and one worm gear. Usually the cylinder had a speed of about two revolutions per minute, but, by means of a rheostat in the field of the motor, could be varied from two to thirteen revolutions. The switch was arranged to control twelve figures on the tower. each of which consisted of several sub-figures. As the cylinder revolved there came a point where all the lamps of the figure were lighted and a little further movement of the cylinder caused all the contacts to break away and the figures begin again. The carbon contacts opened about one-half inch, and with one hundred and ten volts the arc would hold. To avoid this a blower, run by a motor placed beneath the switch, discharged air into a two-inch pipe running the length of the switch and close to the carbon contact, one for each, and a continual blast of air played upon them and blew out the arcs when the circuits were broken.

                          of Mystic Light, under the Electric Fountain

In addition to the illumination of the Exposition buildings, and the effective illumination of the tower, a peculiar charm was added to the scene in the Grand Court every evening by the playing of the wonderful Electric Fountain. When the fountain played, all the other lights were extinguished, a whistle signal being given fire minutes before the turning op of the water and lights at the odd-looking fountain basin at the end of the court nearest the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building. The fountain was circular in form and had a diameter of sixty feet. It presented an appearance by day similar to that of a couple of dozen tin chimney-tops, but a bulkhead was built around this so that, except from a bird's-eye view, these unsightly protuberances were not always in view. At night, however, and when the fountain was in operation, it was nothing but a thing of beauty, and a joy as long as it lasted. The plan of operating the fountain was extremely complex. Beneath the upper deck, as it was called, was a chamber, sixteen feet in diameter and high enough for the operators to walk about standing erect. This chamber was filled with great electric lamps, enormous reflectors and colored screens. Beneath each big nozzle was a revolving screen. There were nineteen of these in all. Beneath each screen was an electric lamp and its reflectors, which flashed the powerful rays through the colored glass and onto the water which jetted into the air.

To operate this fountain a large supply of water was, of course, absolutely necessary, and to secure this, the water was used over and over again. To accomplish this a canal was constructed at the western end of the fountain, so that after water was thrown up, it would fall into the canal and be carried back through a thirty-inch riveted wrought-iron pipe to a receiving tank situated near the fountain pumps which were located in the annex to the Mechanical Arts Building. The pumps used in this connection consisted of three compound, duplex, direct-acting Dow pumps. These had a capacity of 12,500,000 gallons per day. The water was pumped from a tank sunk in the ground, and was forced through a pipe two feet in diameter. When it reached the fountain it was forced into the big nozzles, each of which had two central jets, surrounded by sixty smaller ones. The fountain was operated two hundred and fifty-two times during the Exposition, and in no instance was the operation anything but a success.

The effect of the operation of the Electric Fountain can never be described so that the mere reader may realize its beauties as well as one who witnessed the scene. It must be remembered that the fountain played in the midst of the darkest surrounding. When the signal bad been sounded for the fountain to begiu there were great crowds always within view of the spectacle. The clear light first showed up through the great iron tube from the electrical regions below. An instant later came the jets of water. In the center arose the great geyser-like jet, higher than all the rest, and flanked by a curtain of gracefully falling spray. On the outer circle of the fountain a row of sheaves of wheat were formed by hundreds of spiral spouts. These sheaves at first took on the golden hue of ripened grain, each yellow spray in the bundle being distinct. Gradually the sheaves assumed a vivid Nile-green tint, and the great geyser in the center, which had formerly been white, changed to a pale lavender. The blending of colors in this way added greatly to the effect, and the combinations of colors that had hardly been deemed possible were in this way produced without offense to the artistic eye.

Suddenly there would be an entire change in the operation of the fountain. It seemed as if a volcano of water had broken loose. From the outer row of nozzles great streams of water gushed up and met at the apex of the central geyser. All these would fall away again, and then the operation would change to something between the giant spouting and the garnered sheaves of grain, and there would be an effect something like a golden field of waving grain. And then the sponting would follow once more, and by and by the garnered sheaves would stand once more in military precision around within the circle. For fifteen minutes on each occasion the fountain played with alternate solid and prismatic effects, over twenty changes being thrown out by the colored disks. It was by far the grandest electrical illumination ever seen on the Pacific Coast, and many who witnessed the similar fountain at the Columbian Exposition averred that the experience there gained had made it possible to produce a still more beautiful effect in the new setting accorded to the wonderful mechanical contrivance at the Midwinter Exposition. The fountain was played twice every evening, once as soon as it became dark, at first at 7:30 P.M., but later in the season at 8:30 P.M., aud then again at 9:30 P.M., when fireworks or other special evening features had been finished. Thousands of people who felt as if they could not spend their whole evening on the Exposition grounds lingered until after the first playing of the fountain, as if that were a treat they did not dare to miss.

Another feature of the electrical operations at the Exposition was the great search-light on the top of the Electric Tower. This was the largest search-light in the world. It was the same one that had been used at the Columbian Exposition. The power of its beam of light is estimated as equal to that of three hundred and fifty million candles. This great light, located two hundred and seventy-two feet from the ground, threw its strong arm of radiance out over all the surrounding country, illuminated the further shores of San Francisco Bay, and shone full in the faces of mariners coming in from the sea and steering for the Golden Gate.