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PROF. ELWOOD MEAD & the PANAMA PACIFIC EXPOSITION, CALIFORNIA 1915

This cover has several surprises for the addressee had an important U.S.A.- Australian connection, as well as a significant history as a scientist in both countries, and there was an American slogan reception cancel of significant interest on the cover's front. To cap it off, there was a handstamp on the reverse that I have not seen before. The cover originated from Victoria in 1914, but the originating roller cancel cannot be read because of the overstuck arrival cancel which read: SAN FRANCISCO CAL/ APR 24/ 12 45 PM/ 1914 combined with the slogan: WORLD’S/ PANAMA-PACIFIC/ EXPOSITION. It was addressed to Elwood Mead, Esq., C/- F.T.A Fricke, Esq., Land Settlement Agent for Victoria (Australia), 687 Market Street, San Francisco, Cal. U.S.A., and it was readdressed to the Hotel Tynan, Modesto Cal. (Figure 1).

On the reverse the only finding of significance was a purple handstamp which reads: Ask for further information/ Govt. Representative of VICTORIA, Australia/ 687 Market St., San Francisco, Cal. (Figure 2).

Elwood Mead was an American scientist of considerable importance in Australia from November 1907 to 1914. Elwood Mead, irrigation engineer and advocate of planned rural settlement, was born on 16 January 1858 at Patriot, Indiana, USA, elder son of Daniel Mead, farmer, and his wife Lucinda. He graduated in agriculture and science from Purdue University (B.S., 1882; M.S., 1884; D.Eng., 1904) and from Iowa State College of Agriculture (C.E., 1883). He married Florence Chase, in December 1882, before taking up an appointment at Colorado State Agricultural College where he received rapid promotion to a professorship in irrigation engineering, the first of its type in the United States.

In 1899 Mead moved into the U.S. federal sphere as director of irrigation investigations for the Department of Agriculture while working part time for the University of California at Berkeley. His lecture courses and official duties provided the basis for Irrigation Institutions (1903) and other major publications. Supporting three children after the death of his first wife and an unsuccessful second marriage, he married Mary Lewis on 28 September 1905. Isolated in Washington after his opposition to the Federal Reclamation Act (1902), he accepted for six months an invitation from the Victorian government to become, at double his American salary, chairman of its newly formed State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, and Mead and his family arrived in Melbourne in November 1907.

The high hopes for government-controlled irrigation in Victoria owed a great deal to the early efforts of Prime Minister Alfred Deakin who expected Mead to advise at both national and State levels. The novelty and openness of the Australian situation revived his idealism and, abandoning all plans for a quick departure, he embraced the opportunity to demonstrate the social utility of an enlightened irrigation programme. The Water Act was passed in 1909 despite the fierce opposition of large landowners, and Mead's influence on rural development was massively increased by his assumption of overriding control in the planning of closer settlement in Victoria's irrigation districts. He claimed much of the credit for the hierarchical arrangement of allotment sizes which characterized these designs.

The Australian interlude consolidated Mead's international reputation. Some of his prodigious energy continued to be directed away from Australia: American contacts were carefully cultivated and he obtained generous overseas leave. In Victoria his contributions were generally well recognized in the irrigation settlements, but his American background and involvements were less popular. A serious drought was threatening the entire irrigation programme across south-eastern Australia and Mead's own insecurity intensified in proportion to the mounting hostility towards America's continuing neutrality in World War I. His resignation became effective in May 1915.

He was appointed professor of rural institutions at the University of California, and Mead became prominent in the abortive campaign for a national settlement scheme for returned soldiers. As chairman of California's Land Settlement Board in 1917-23 he instituted 'agricultural colonies' but the plan was ill timed, and abandonments and bankruptcies were common during the agricultural depression of the 1920s.

A four-month advisory tour of Australia in 1923 was punctuated by disputes with Sir Joseph Carruthers and leading authorities in New South Wales over the selection and use of land in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Mead rejected plans for further fruit planting, advocating larger dairy farms and an improved co-ordination of grazing and irrigation enterprises which would favour stock fattening and the intensive production of lucerne. On his return to the USA he resigned from the University of California and in April 1924 took up his last major appointment, as federal commissioner for reclamation.

Survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, Mead died in Washington on 26 January 1936 only four months after the official dedication of the giant Boulder Dam. In February 1936 the reservoir behind the dam was named Lake Mead. They were fitting memorials to a distinguished public service career devoted to the establishment and consolidation of modern irrigation administration in the western world. A photo of Elwood Mead is seen in Figure 3.

 

The Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) was the 1915 worlds fair held in San Francisco, California. Taking over three years to construct, the fair had great economic implications for the city that had been almost destroyed by the great earthquake and fire of 1906. The exposition did much to boost the morale of the entire Bay Area and to help get San Francisco back up on its feet. Officially, the exposition was a celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal, and also commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovering of the Pacific Ocean by the explorer, Balboa. San Francisco was only one of many cities hoping to host the PPIE. The fair ran from February 20th until December 4th, 1915 -- and was widely considered to be a great success. The picture shows the mayor of San Francisco, James Rolf (arrowed), addressing the crowd at the Exposition (Figure 4).

For more information on Mayor Rolf and the Panama Pacific International Exposition, these can be found in Category: Political, by searching for Hind, Rolf at this website.

 

 

 
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