Expo to Expo: America’s Expo of 1939

The 1939 World Expo was an introduction to the new United States. The theme of the New York’s World Fair was the World of Tomorrow which was dreamed of during the height of the great depression. The theme brought hope to New York cities and people around the United States going through tough times (Taylor, 2013). The 1939 San Francisco Exposition brought adventure and was held originally to celebrate the completed Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridges. The celebration progressed however and then became “A Pageant of the Pacific”, which emphasized the unity, heritage, and meddling of cultures that share the Pacific Ocean (Shea, 2009). The expos declared that the United States was no longer in one part of the world but two, for they now had access to the Atlantic and Pacific and showcased it for everyone to see. 

The California Grays and Mayor Rossi 

The California Grays were a group of Sunday school kids who decided to form a military club in 1890 who used to meet in the backyard of Calvary Church in San Francisco. They were a private militia ready for hire which was common during the time of the Great Depression. The group eventually fought in World War 2 and had a total number of one-hundred and twenty active members (San Francisco Examiner, 1922). Before the war they were hired to travel with Mayor Rossi to the New York World’s Fair. Mayor Angelo Joseph Rossi was mayor of San Francisco from 1931 to 1934. The last two bridges in the Bay of Bridges were opened during his mayorship. He oversaw the opening of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. He carried out the Golden Gate Exposition which brought global attention to his beloved city internationally (Battocchi, 2012). Mayor Rossi and the California Grays traveled to New York to represent San Francisco and the Pacific in New York’s World Fair and to provide hope during a glooming time in America. Below is Mayor Rossi presenting the bridge to East Coast Mayor Fiorella La Guardia. 

The transportation time from California to New York via train was approximately 83 hours or faster. A citizen would leave New York Monday morning, and arrive in San Francisco Thursday afternoon (Kiger, 2019). The travel time presented an opportunity for the train industry to provide food to their passengers to create a delightful atmosphere and to keep citizens fed. Below is a luncheon menu provided from the Union Pacific Railroad for the special train en route for Mayor Rossi and the California Grays in 1939. 

The luncheon menu was of higher scale due to the audience of the governor and the California Grays. Entrees on this menu included Poached Salmon Steak, Old Fashioned Stewed Chicken, Slow Braised Steak, and Casserole of Lamb. These entrees were considered a delicacy in 1939 and would have a cost of around $30 for lunch. Overall, however, not a horrible price considering how grand the portion is. 

Poached Salmon Steak 

The history of Salmon for Europeans as a food started during the years of early colonization. Salmon was so abundant that there was a clause written for salmon to be only served to servants once a week due to it not being seen as a delicacy. Salmon became fished out in the Atlantic and could only be seen in Canadian or European waters. The West became the major exporter for salmon and due to the decrease the Alaskan turkey became a prized entree (Filippone, 2021) 

Old Fashioned Chicken Stew 

A southern favorite and an entree that could represent the depression period. Chicken stew was a delightful meal and the addition of biscuits made it even greater. The entree is the most expensive item on the menu which was quite interesting due to the fact that in today’s economic world the other entrees would take a bigger bite out of a budget. The entree dates back all the way to 1 BC and 2AD making it a historic classic (Blogspot, 2021). 

Slow Braised Swiss Steak

The Swiss Steak originated is not from Switzerland, but the technique of how the dish is made.. The technique of tenderizing the meat by pounding or rolling is called swissing in England. Some parts of the United States and England call it smothered steak. Recipes for the dish started in England in 1915, and were later found in the United States in 1924. There was a rise of popularity for the dish post World War 2 when homemakers could not afford the more expensive cuts (Maslowski, 2019).

Casserole of Lamb With Vegetables 

A dish that is relatable to the famous Lamb Stew. Lamb stew also known as Irish Stew can be drawn all the way back to the Roman Empire in the Aquis de re Coquinaria, known to be the oldest cookbook in existence. The recipe lived on in the hearts of the Irish. Where the stew famously got its name. The dish was popular during the Great Famine of the 19th century. The recipe was usually made with mutton and potatoes. The recipe was cheap and affordable and helped even the poorest of families in Ireland live on (Phelan 2016). 


The dawn of a new age was approaching with the rise of Hitler in Germany and the age of railroads and expos was about to diminish. A new way of transportation was on the way via airfare. The menu above speaks of a time that is foreign to some in our history and uncovers the story of the travel of Mayor Rossi to New York to proudly present its city and the two new beautiful bridges that present it to this day.













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