map of the A-Y-P grounds. This extremely detailed map was created for insurance purposes.
The fair was evolved from an idea of Godfrey Chealander's. Chealander, then Grand Secretary of the
Arctic Brotherhood, was involved in the Alaska Territory exhibit at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. Originally, he pitched William Sheffield of the Alaska Club and James A. Wood, city editor of the Seattle Times on the idea of a permanent exhibit in Seattle about Alaska. This merged with Wood's desire for an exposition to rival Portland's. They soon gained the backing of Times publisher Alden J. Blethen—remarkably, for the time, without gaining the opposition of the rival Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Among other early proponents of the exposition was John Edward Chilberg, one of a line of prominent Seattle merchants in the Chilberg family, who was president of the Alaska Club, and was then given the title of president of the Exposition.
Edmond S. Meany proposed that the exposition be held on the then largely forested campus of the University of Washington, which in 1905 had exactly three buildings and little deliberate landscaping. At the time, this was considered rather far from the center of town, but Meany eventually sold the others involved on the idea that the forested campus could, itself, be an attraction for out-of-town visitors and that the trolley ride from downtown would not be an obstacle to attendance. Of course, he was also highly aware of what the landscaping and structures could do for the campus.
The state legislature endorsed the fair, with the proviso that it would produce at least four permanent buildings, and that any state monetary contribution would be focused mainly on those buildings. King County (the county in which Seattle is located) stepped up with US$300,000 for a forestry exhibit—the largest log cabin ever built—and $78,000 for other exhibits. Because the original Klondike gold strikes had been in Canada, the concept soon evolved to an "Alaska-Yukon Exposition"; later, at the behest of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the "Pacific" theme was also added to emphasize the Oriental trade. The Exposition became known as the "A-Y-P" for short
Although the fair almost certainly could have been ready for 1907, it was postponed so as not to conflict with the Jamestown Exposition. This turned out to be good fortune for Seattle, because 1907 proved to be a bad year for the economy. If the exposition had been held that year it almost certainly would have been a financial failure, rather than the success it was in 1909.