Celebrating 100 Years Of Ukulele Strummin’ In San Francisco


2015 marks the 100th year anniversary of the international debut of the Ukulele. Brought to the1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition In San Francisco by a Hawaiian manufacturer and Hawaiian musicians, the Ukulele  and Hawaiian music became an overwhelming hit with international audiences. It’s popularity at the exposition began the first wave of the Ukulele craze,  we are in the mainstream of that international popularity  today.


George E. K. Awai (seated) and his Royal Hawaiian Quartette at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Franciso, 1915. Standing (left to right): Ben Zablan (8 string ukulele), Bill Kaina (ukulele), and Henry Komomua (guitar)(http://www.oocities.org/~ukulele/history2.html)

Hawaiian music had been presented at a number of expositions and fairs on the mainland before 1915. The Royal Hawaiian Band went to the Chigago Fair in 1895; Mekia Kealakai and his band had traveled to Buffalo for the World’s Fair in 1901; and again the Royal Hawaiian Band went to the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905. But it was the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 which had the greatest impact and started a Hawaiian music craze across the country. By the next year, Tin Pan Alley produced dozens of Hawaiian songs, more than it had ever done before. Also in 1916, Victor Recording Company listed 146 Hawaiian records sold on the mainland, more than any other type of music.

“…An entrepreneurial Hawaiian ukulele maker, Jonah Kumalae, took a small group of his ukulele-playing friends to the year-long 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition ”world’s fair” in San Francisco, which an amazing 18 million people visited. ”Hawaiian music” featuring ukuleles went viral, as we would say today, and coinciding with the start of commercial radio and the fledgling recording industry, became a global phenomenon.” (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/uke-fills-up-the-senses-20120320-1vhkv.html)


The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition In San Francisco

“For nine months in 1915, the Presidio’s bayfront and much of today’s Marina District was the site of a grand celebration of human spirit and ingenuity. Hosted to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition reflected the ascendancy of the United States to the world stage and was a milestone in San Francisco history.

Though San Francisco was the largest and wealthiest city on the west coast by the turn of the twentieth century, the disastrous 1906 earthquake and ensuing fire destroyed most of the city. Less than ten years later, however, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition was an ambitious endeavor designed to showcase the new city to the world. Selected by Congress over several other aspirant cities, San Francisco filled 630 acres of bayfront tidal marsh—extending three miles from Fort Mason through the Presidio waterfront to just east of the Golden Gate—to build the grand fair.” (http://www.nps.gov/prsf/historyculture/1915-panama-pacific-international-exposition.htm)

Jonah Kumalae’s Ukuleles were featured at the 1915 PPEI


“In his younger years (circa 1894) Kumalae worked as a school teacher and agricultural farmer, and poi manufacturer. Then in 1911, he began making ukuleles in earnest, having been a very accomplished musician. His ukuleles were made of Koa wood, brought over from the Big Island of Hawaii. In 1915, Kumalae got a big break in his ukulele manufacturing and sales. He applied for, and won, a bid to display his ukuleles at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, where his ukulele design won a Gold Award.


This enabled Kumalae to market and sell his ukuleles to companies on the U.S. Mainland and, according to many ukulele historians, was instrumental in ushering in a ‘new wave’ of ukulele and Hawaiian music popularity. He is also considered to be the most prolific ukulele manufacturer of his time, producing as many as 300 ukuleles per month at the peak of his business, or possibly as many as 600 per month.

kumalaeboothV3EndDecalV2Kamulae1915 UkeV3

Kumalae ukuleles occupy an important and influential place in the history of the Hawaiian ukuleles. Historians believe that it was Kumalae ukuleles that were given to passengers on island-bound cruise ships in the 1920s, as well as distributed at local hotels. One of these hotels was the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened in 1927.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonah_Kumalae)

RoyalHawaiianComposite“This small and somewhat whimsical four-string instrument is taking … the world by storm. But this is not the first global ukulele tsunami to hit our shores. In fact it’s the third wave. The first started just under 100 years ago. At that time, a small stringed instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors and settlers in the 1880s had already evolved into the ukulele and attracted the patronage of the Hawaiian royal family, but was unknown beyond its island home.(http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/uke-fills-up-the-senses-20120320-1vhkv.html)


By the late teens, Hawaiian music had become the most popular music on the U.S. mainland and sales of ukuleles were booming. In 1917, a writer for Paradise of the Pacific magazine observed: “Hawaii has captured America. From every phonograph-shop come the strains of the “Hilo March”…The boy in the street whistles “Hello, Hawaii, How Are You?”. Our music teachers have closed the piano and put aside the violin – in order to live they advertise lessons on the ukulele and the Hawaiian guitar. The ukulele, that little taro-patch guitar, has for some time, as everybody knows, been a fad from one end of the United States to the other….It is justly popular. It is small and easily packed and carried. It is easy to learn how to manipulate a ukulele. It is a symbol of innocent merriment…We should take off our hats to the little Hawaiian ukulele.” http://www.oocities.org/~ukulele/history2.html

Decades Of  Strummin’ Fun!

Decades Composite

JohnLennon Uke

UFOs2015And the beat goes on!

February 21, 2015: 100 Year Anniversary Celebration 

Palace of Fine Arts 3PM-4:30PM

“Celebrate the historic launch of the ukulele’s popularity in the United States. Uke-a-thon is part of the opening festivities for the Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Join in and play where the ‘Uke’ craze began.”

For event details go to:http://www.ppie100.org/event/uke-thon/

UKE A THON V2Please note: The content of this blog was gleaned form other internet sources and compiled as you see here. There are links following each section to go to the source sites for this article’s research.

Thank you!

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4 Replies to “Celebrating 100 Years Of Ukulele Strummin’ In San Francisco”

  1. The man in the black and white photo with the guitar on his lap, is my great-uncle Henry.

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