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Rose Festival time comes in late Spring as the roses begin to bloom. Portlanders pause in their everyday pursuits to celebrate a mythical Kingdom that is ruled by the Queen of Rosaria and her Court who each represent one of Portland’s High Schools.

The Rose Festival spans over a month, mostly during June and it includes several parades (including the second largest floral parade in the nation, the Grand Floral Parade; an all-Children’s Parade and the night-time Starlight Parade), as well as an Indy Car Race at Portland International Raceway and numerous other events.

In 1888, the Portland Rose Society was formed and it still exists today.  They held their first rose show in 1889 and in 1904 held a Rose Fiesta in conjunction with it. On June 10, 1904, they held Portland’s first floral parade.

By the end of the 19th century, Portland was the largest metropolis in the Northwest with 90,000 citizens.  But Seattle’s ports and railroad connections were causing it to eclipse Portland’s growth.  To maintain its leadership, Portland’s foremost citizens came up with the idea of holding a world’s fair.  The Lewis & Clark Exposition was held in Northwest Portland in what is now the industrial district around Guilds Lake.  More than three million visitors attended the fair and Portland’s population doubled in the next five years.

Rose Festival 1909

Rose Festival 1910

At the end of the Lewis & Clark Expo in 1905, Mayor Henry Lane mentioned the idea of holding a festival in a speech, although E.W. Rowe is credited with the original idea.  In any case, the Rose Carnival and Festival was begun in 1907.  Afterwards, on June 27, 1907, ten local businessmen organized the Portland Rose Festival into a nonprofit corporation.  They sold 1000 shares at $10 each to finance the organization.

Rose Festival 1911

Rose Festival 1916

The first year’s queen was the governor’s daughter, Carrie Lee Chamberlain, but from 1908 until 1913 a king, Rex Oregonus, ruled.   Rex wore a disguise and his identity was kept secret until the annual ball.  From 1914 until 1930, a queen was chosen from among Portland’s socialites.  From 1924 to 1929, Rex was revived as the queen’s co-regent.  In 1931 the queen was selected from Portland’s high school seniors, and that tradition continues today. 

Rose blossoms decorated this 1910 era car in the Grand Floral Parade

The Grand Floral Parade, which is the Second Largest Floral Parade in the nation, (behind Pasadena), is the centerpiece of the Rose Festival. The Rose Parade has always had decorated vehicles.  The 1904 parade featured decorated horse-drawn carriages, wagons and surreys and even four automobiles!

The children’s parade began in 1907.  It became the East Side Street Carnival of Masqueraders and Children’s Parade in 1908.  In 1936 the event was  invited to become a part of the Rose Festival and today it has grown to become the largest children’s parade in the world.

Night parades also began in 1907 with the spectacular Electrical Parade, when Streetcars were decorated with electric lights.  For a number of years, this parade was known as the Merry-khanna Parade, which was discontinued in 1973. Apparently some of the Rainmakers were having too much fun making the crowds wet. The parade made a comeback in 1976 as the Bicentennial Starlight Parade. The Starlight Run ushers in one of the Nation’s Largest Illuminated Parades, The Starlight Parade, where the runners dress as though it were Halloween. 

Fire Chiefs ride in this rose blossom-decorated car

Livestock Farming was depicted on this 1910 era float

This float featured a colorful Chinese pheasant and a peacock

Queen of the Lily

King Rex Oregonus ruled over Rosaria.

The Queen of Flowers

Oregon’s Agricultural Resources were represented on this float

A wagon decorated for the Rose Carnival (now Festival) stops in front of the Lewis & Clark Forestry Building

Horse cart decorated for the Rose Festival.

1913 Rose Festival

Thousands of visitors come from far and wide to enjoy Portland’s Festivities. Two times in history, the Rose Festival was cancelled, 1918 (during World War I and again in 1926, due to the general economy at the time.

Portland Radio Historian Craig Adams has written a history of Rose Festival Broadcasts.

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Last updated 01-03-10

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