A Brief History of Petaluma

The Egg Basket of the World

The City of Petaluma, California, was settled in 1850 along the banks of what is now known as the Petaluma River. It is believed the name of the town means 'flat back hills' in the language of the Miwok Indians. The town was incorporated in 1858, making it the oldest city between San Francisco and Eureka.

In 1879, Lyman Byce invented the first successful incubator for hatching eggs and a new and amazingly profitable industry was introduced in Petaluma. Hundreds of chicken farms dotted the landscape around town and with the price of eggs at 30 cents per dozen, profits from the egg business poured into Petaluma. Easy access to the immense population centers of San Francisco and Oakland via the Petaluma River offered seemingly endless demand for Petaluma's eggs. By 1917 Petaluma was the undisputed world leader of the chicken and egg industry.

The Petaluma Chamber of Commerce hired Promoter Bert Kerrigan to capitalize on the chicken mania and he declared the town "The Egg Basket of the World". He then proceeded to market Petaluma, sometimes shamelessly, as the center of the Chicken Universe. The town helped launch a National Egg Day on Aug. 13, 1918, which in Petaluma was celebrated with a parade led by the Egg Queen and her court of attendant chicks. Events ranged from the Egg Queen Ball to a Chicken Rodeo. And only in Petaluma could one have found the Chicken Pharmacy on Main Street, featured in both National Geographic and Ripley's Believe It Or Not. By 1920 the price of eggs was up to 50.5 cents per dozen and the money continued to pour into the town. For nearly two decades, there was more money on deposit in Petaluma banks, per capita, than any other town on Earth. The enormous prosperity in Petaluma sparked a spectacular building boom throughout the city, most of which can be seen to this day.

The epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was only 18 miles southwest of Petaluma at the village of Olema. While towns further from the quake were destroyed, Petaluma managed to escape with little damage. As a result, hundreds of pre-quake buildings still exist in the town, and the downtown area has an extraordinary mix of architecture from the 1870s to the present. This availability of architectural styles from all eras has drawn the motion picture industry to Petaluma where numerous movies and more than 100 commercials have been filmed during the past 30 years, most notably American Graffiti, Peggy Sue Got Married, Inventing the Abbotts, and the Morning In America television ads for Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign.


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