Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates United Commercial Travelers Day on June 12, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 4/23/2009
  • Essay 8986

On June 12, 1909, United Commercial Travelers Day is celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. The A-Y-P Exposition took place on the University of Washington campus in Seattle between June 1 and October 16, 1909, drawing more than three million people. Visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia.  Each day of the A-Y-P was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups.  Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again.  United Commercial Travelers Day kicks off with a hilarious parade downtown in the morning, complete with uniformed marchers showering bottles of carbonated water on a delighted crowd of spectators; in the afternoon, an equally exuberant crowd of commercial travelers raises the roof at the Auditorium.

United Commercial Travelers

The Order of United Commercial Travelers of America (UCT) is a fraternal benefit society founded in 1888 by eight traveling salesmen (then known as commercial travelers) to provide accident insurance for traveling salesmen. The organization grew rapidly -- in 1910, the year after the A-Y-P Exposition, the UCT boasted a nationwide membership of 60,000. Today (2009) the UCT’s local councils operate in 47 states and 10 Canadian provinces.  

On June 11, 1909, the Grand UCT Council of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia held its annual meeting at the Elks Hall in Seattle. The meeting was a springboard for the traveling salesmen -- also called “drummers” -- to leap into their special day at the A-Y-P the next day. And leap they did, with an enthusiasm that made their day a particularly memorable one at the fair, not just for the attendees themselves but for practically anyone who saw them.

A Merry March

The morning of Saturday, June 12, was unseasonably cool and damp, but nothing dampened the spirits of about 3,500 UCT members and their wives as they gathered at Pioneer Place (Pioneer Square) for their parade. It kicked off at 10:15 a.m., after parade marshal Tom Miles and his six rather large aides, many riding rather small horses, had lined up the delegations and amused the crowd with their antics.  Wagner’s A-Y-P band led the parade south on 1st Avenue, followed by a carriage carrying the mayors of Seattle (John Miller)  and Vancouver, B.C. (C. S. Douglas), and other VIPs.

The various UCT delegations followed, with the British Columbia delegations from Vancouver and Victoria, all carrying paper parasols in the Canadian national colors, given the honor of being first in line. They were followed by delegations from Washington state, including Tacoma Council No. 124, nattily attired in dark blue coats and gray high hats, marching behind their own band and a Yellow Kid (a popular comic strip character of the day). Then came the 500 members of Seattle Council No. 83, all dressed in long, light green duster coats and tall white hats, marching behind an advance guard carrying a banner reading “I love my husband, but, oh, you traveling men,” and led by a member described by The Seattle Times as “done up in the style of a cigar store Indian.” Automobiles carrying the women and a few hundred other traveling salesmen brought up the rear of the parade. 

The drummers marched south on 1st Avenue, cheering uproariously, while thousands of spectators cheered just as loudly back at them. The parade turned on King Street to Occidental Avenue, then headed north to Main Street. Waiting for the paraders at Main and Occidental were costumed girls who gave away Lovera cigars and match safes (cases) to the group, courtesy of the Schwabacher Brothers Company, while from a fifth floor window in a building across the street, one “Gardiner, of chewing gum fame” (“Jolly Parade Held By U.C.T.”) showered the crowd with thousands of packets of gum.

The parade then edged over to 2nd Avenue and continued north, but as it passed Yesler Way, things took an even more wacky turn.  A driver of a delivery wagon carrying several hundred bottles of carbonated water attempted to cut through the parade.  Light bulbs went off over the paraders’ heads. They bought up the driver’s entire stock of the seltzer and promptly began spraying it on anyone who came into their field of vision as they marched through downtown. Streetcars loaded with passengers proved to be an easy target, and especially attractive young women got extra attention. But no one minded -- in fact, all were laughing, cheering the salesmen on, and caught up in the spirit of the celebration.  Other marchers (and spectators) threw colored rolls of paper tape and paper netting; one creative drummer scattered canary seed along the route. The parade marched to 4th Avenue and Pike Street, turned and doglegged to 2nd Avenue and Stewart Street, and then dropped down to 1st Avenue and returned to Pioneer Place.

“We Will! We Will!”

After lunch, 2,000 commercial travelers converged on the A-Y-P for their program at 2:30 p.m. in the Auditorium.  Not content to sit quietly and wait for the program to begin, the crowd sang “How Dry I Am,” joined in by Wagner’s A-Y-P band, and giving rest to the complaints that had been previously vented about the Auditorium’s poor acoustics.  When A-Y-P president J. E. (“Ed”) Chilberg (1867-1954) rose to give his welcoming speech, he had to wait several minutes just for the cheering and applause to die down. Said Chilberg: “You are the missionaries of the world’s commerce. We invited you here today so that each of you can go forth and do intelligent and beneficial missionary work for this exposition.  I believe you will do it” (“Gay U.C.T. Men Invade Fair Grounds”).

“You bet we will, Ed,” someone shouted, and then came a rousing chorus: “We will! We will!”  The drummers danced, hurrahed, waved their flags, and flung their hats in the air, drowning out the A-Y-P band and wiping out the efforts of Chilberg and Al Wismolek, grand secretary of the UCT of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, to calm them down. Once a semblance of order was restored, Wismolek gave the response, affirming that there was no one better able to boost the fair than the traveling man.  

After the speeches, the happy crowd went to the Oregon Building, where they enjoyed a light snack with punch and cigars (for the men) and candy (for the women). They then invaded the fairgrounds in general and the Pay Streak in particular, where special badges allowed them free access to every show on the Pay Streak.  One group of the traveling salesmen, 400 strong, formed a conga line of sorts and snaked about the exposition grounds, yelling and singing and making sure everyone knew they were there. A spectacular fireworks show at 9 p.m. at the foot of the Pay Streak, complete with the explosion of more than 100 colored rockets, provided an exclamatory ending to an exuberant day.

Sources: “Seattle Man Is Head Of U.C.T. Grand Council,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 12, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1;  “Traveling Men Enlist To Boost The Exposition,” Ibid., June 13, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1;  “Tomorrow To Be Busy Day,” The Seattle Daily Times, June 11, 1909, p. 4;  “Jolly Parade Held By U.C.T.,” Ibid., June 12, 1909,  pp. 1, 2;  “Fireworks At Fair Tonight,” Ibid., June 12, 1909, p. 4;  “Gay U.C.T. Men Invade Fair Grounds,” The Seattle Sunday Times, June 13, 1909, Sec. 1, pp. 1, 8;   “Commercial Men Shout Prosperity,” The New York Times, June 10, 1910;  “UCT,” website accessed April 10, 2009 ( 

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