The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1995, Volume 41, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor


Population in 1890: 16,159
Population in 1900: 17,700
Population in 1910: 39,578

“The Great Commercial Port”

Following the frenzied Boom and Bust years, San Diegans settled down to plan a more stabilized economy. The city had paid a high price based on get-rich-quick visions. Still determined to establish a commercial port city, San Diegans now worked to build a more up-to-date city with the establishment of city services and public utilities. Modern amenities were important to a growing community. San Diego’s built environment had already begun to change with the construction of buildings and residences typical of those found in big eastern cities.

By 1900, San Diego had lost its frontier appearance. Throughout its emergence as a thoroughly modern city, San Diego kept its eyes focused on the harbor and continued to look for ways to make the vision of a great commercial port a reality.

High spirits and optimism characterized the mood of the city after 1900. When word about the proposed construction of the Panama Canal reached San Diego, the news created tremendous excitement. San Diego was the closest western port of call to the canal. In addition, the city’s desire for its own direct rail line east resulted in plans for what became known as the “Impossible Railroad.” This costly and ambitious undertaking across mountains and desert was perceived as the solution to strengthening the city’s economy. The region’s prosperous and growing agricultural market, combined with the potential for development of the port and railroad, would undoubtedly bring the commerce that generations of San Diegans had sought.

In 1909, San Diegans began to plan for an exposition that would celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, showcase the city, its incomparable climate and future potential. San Diegans immediately launched a national marketing campaign they hoped would attract thousands to the city for the fair. Brochures, souvenir booklets, and postcards lavishly illustrated San Diego’s scenic attractions, its climate and the agricultural and commercial opportunities afforded by the port and railroad.