1868 - 1946

 Great and Good Friends

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Historic Gifts between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America. Americans Meet Siam 1868 - 1946

Americans Meet Siam

World expositions, commonly known in the United States as world’s fairs, were a popular means by which Americans learned about other cultures in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Kingdom of Siam participated in several famous expositions celebrating significant occasions in American history, including the U.S. Centennial (Philadelphia, 1876), the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to America (Chicago, 1893), the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase (St. Louis, 1904), and the completion of the Panama Canal (San Francisco, 1915).

The International Exposition
1876 at Philadelphia, Pa. U.S.A., c. 1876
George H. Ellsbury; Charles Shober & Co.;
Chicago Lithographing Co.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia was the first event of its kind in the United States. At the same time that Americans learned of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, many were also introduced to the Kingdom of Siam. The kingdom’s display included nielloware, textiles, theatrical khon masks, shadow puppets, musical instruments, and models of royal barges and houseboats, all of which provided Americans with a fascinating window to the world of Siam.


Siam display of khon masks and musical instruments at the Centennial Exposition, 1876; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photograph by Centennial Photo Co.;
Courtesy of the Library of Congress; LC-USZ62-57241

The exhibitions sent by King Chulalongkorn and his royal commissions were not only an opportunity to demonstrate the mastery of Siamese artisans and to spur trade interest in his nation’s commodities, but they were also gestures of goodwill that, much like earlier gifts, communicated the mutual esteem between his kingdom and the United States.

Siam Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 Chicago, Illinois
From a photograph album presented by Queen Savang Vadhana to Bertha Honoré Palmer

Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum; i064197_pm

Siam Pavilion dedication
The royal family took an active interest in curating these displays. For the 1904 and 1915 expositions, large-scale model temples were commissioned to serve as exhibition space, briefly transporting visitors to the Buddhist kingdom.

Siam Pavilion at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904; St. Louis, Missouri;

Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston
Courtesy of the Library of Congress; LC-USZ62-80767

While beautifully ornamented niello and lacquer objects demonstrated the skill of Thai artisans, everyday objects such as baskets, fish traps, and tools were also exhibited, conveying a sense of daily life.

Siam Pavilion at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915; San Francisco, California

Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library; AAD-6832

Gold Niello Towel Stand
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876
51 x 41 x 13.8 cm diameter (base)

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27151-0
Photo by James Di Loreto, Lucia RM Martino, and Fred Cochard

Gold Niello Wash Bowl Tray
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876; 18.2 x 28.7 cm

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27148-0
Photo by James Di Loreto, Lucia RM Martino, and Fred Cochard

Silk and Gold Thread Hip Wrapper for Royalty
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876; 95.25 x 304.8 cm

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27129-0
Photo by James Di Loreto and Fred Cochard

These religious items were originally produced for high-ranking monks on the occasion of King Chulalongkorn’s Second Coronation in 1873 and were therefore an exceptional inclusion to Siam’s presentation at the U.S. Centennial Exposition three years later.


Alms Bowl Embellished by Lacquered Lid and Stand with Mother of Pearl Inlay
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876 Lid: 26.7 cm diameter

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27266-0, E413401;
Photo by James Di Loreto, Lucia RM Martino, and Fred Cochard

The design for each incorporates aspects of the Privy Seal of King Chulalongkorn and the Royal Seal of Erawan, which are also featured on the king’s ceremonial letters. The decorative banners declare the king’s royal title and the date of his coronation.


Alms Bowl Embellished by Lacquered Lid and Stand with Mother of Pearl Inlay
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876 Lid: 26.7 cm diameter

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27266-0, E413401;
Photo by James Di Loreto, Lucia RM Martino, and Fred Cochard

Satchel for Alms Bowl
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876 61 x 84 cm

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27270-0;
Photo by James Di Loreto and Lucia RM Martino

Prayer Fan of Ivory, Silk, and Gold Thread
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1876 99 x 39.5 cm

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E27267-0;
Photo by James Di Loreto

Objects made of organic materials are particularly vulnerable to degradation over time. This woven reed mat at the Smithsonian, gifted by King Chulalongkorn after its display at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, developed a tear due to the fragility of the century-old plant fibers. Conservation stabilized the damage and improved this delicate object’s longevity.


“Chantaboon” Woven Reed Mat with Astrological Sign of the Dog Chanthaburi Province
Gift from King Chulalongkorn to the Smithsonian Institution, 1904 188 x 86 cm

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E235968;
Photo by Jim Di Loreto

First Reigning King of Thailand Visits America

“In Siam there exists high admiration for the achievements of this great country, and a marked feeling of friendship towards both the American people and its government. This is largely due to the fact that Americans have made valuable contribution to the modern development of my kingdom, and that the government of the United States has shown sympathetic understanding, both of the aspiration and the achievements of my kingdom.” - King Prajadhipok


TIME, April 20, 1931, Volume 17, Number 16
29.3 x 21.5 cm

Courtesy of King Prajadhipok’s Institute;
Photo by Korajak Na Songkhla

In 1931, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII, 1893-1941) and Queen Rambhai Barni (1904-1984) became the first reigning monarchs of Siam to visit the United States. Though the royal couple had traveled to New York in 1924 as prince and princess, it was their second visit that marked a historic milestone

King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambhai Barni greet a crowd, 1931; Scarborough, New York

Courtesy of the National Archives at College Park, Still Picture Unit; 306-PS-D-56-25820

The king and queen received a royal welcome in New York City, where they stood atop the newly completed Empire State Building, then the tallest building in the world. They also met Babe Ruth, one of the greatest baseball players in history, and famous American pilot Amelia Earhart, while attending a New York Yankees baseball game.

His Majesty’s sentiments towards the United States endeared him to the American public, who were eager to learn more about the Kingdom of Siam. The visit was covered by several newspapers, including the nationally syndicated TIME magazine, bringing the Kingdom of Siam into homes across America.

Welcome Speech from Harvard College to King Prajadhipok, 1931

Courtesy of King Prajadhipok’s Institute;
Photo by Korajak Na Songkhla

On this state visit, King Prajadhipok met with President Herbert Hoover (1895-1972), to whom the king gifted a traditional Silver Niello Bowl with Gold Trim bowl and an enamel royal portrait.

Silver Niello Bowl with Gold Trim
Gift from King Prajadhipok to President Herbert Hoover, 1931
38.1 x 45.4 cm

Courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum; 65.2.35 (a-c)
Photo by Burwell Photography

Enamel Portrait of King Prajadhipok in Gold Frame with Diamonds
Gift from King Prajadhipok to First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, 1931; 5.4 x 3.2 cm

Courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum; 65.6.124 (a-b)
Photo by Burwell Photography

Following Japanese occupation in 1941, the government of Thailand was coerced into declaring war on the United States. However, Mom Rajawongse Seni Pramoj, the head of the Thai royal legation to Washington, D.C., at the time, refused to deliver the declaration. In doing so, he prevented war between the United States and Thailand and actively worked with the Americans to liberate Thailand by developing the Free Thai Movement.

In 1945, two U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents infiltrated Japanese-occupied Thailand to rendezvous with Luang Praditmanutham (Pridi Banomyong), the Regent of King Ananda Mahidol. The regent requested the officers return to the United States with a gift for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to convey the kingdom’s desire for peace.

Ambassador Mom Rajawongse Seni Pramoj at the Thai Legation, 1944; Washington, D.C.

Photograph by the Office of War Information
Courtesy of the Library of Congress; LC-USW3- 055060-C

This unspoken message of solidarity led President Roosevelt to secretly acknowledge the gift and express his gratitude through OSS officers in Thailand. Though small in size, this golden cigarette case demonstrates the power of a gift to shape history. -

Cigarette Case with Royal Cypher of King Ananda Mahidol
Gift from Luang Praditmanutham (Pridi Banomyong), Regent of King Ananda Mahidol, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1945
8.26 x 7.62 cm

Courtesy of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum; MO 1946.29.1
Photo by Burwell Photography

Historic Gifts between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America
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