Guido Deiro
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

Post card from the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle, 1909.
Post card from the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle, 1909. Guido Deiro performed and demonstrated accordions for the Ronco-Vercelli company of Italy at this world's fair.

Guido Deiro travelled from Italy to the United States to perform and demonstrate accordions built by the Italian Ronco-Vercelli company at the Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. This world's fair was held in Seattle from June to October 1909 and created quite a stir. Alaska, the Canadian Yukon, and Pacific nations such as Japan and Philippines built impressive exhibits. Opening day attracted 90,000 visitors and the cumulative total for the season was 3.7 million.

Deiro's son, Count Guido, wrote:

There were three probable reasons why my father came to the United States from Italy in the Fall of 1908:

1. His relatives in Italy said that he left because he couldn't stand his father Carlo's oppressive nature and that he had been threatened with an arranged marriage with the daughter of a powerful business competitor. The only time Guido's father permitted him to play the accordion was to attract customers to the family's produce stand in the town market.

2. Others in Italy say that he left home to pursue a professional career in the United States with hopes of entering the "big time." While in Italy he played in Torino and then in the summer in the resorts along the Lake District and then took bookings in the larger cities in Switzerland and Germany, finally opting for America, where he hoped to make his fortune.

3. My father's own story, as told to me, was that he was already a success in Europe and was encouraged, if not assisted, by the Ronco-Vercelli accordion company to demonstrate their product at the Seattle World's Fair of 1909 -- the Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition -- in the far northwest of America. He booked passage to America and arrived in the Autumn of 1908. Travel was not the sure, swift thing it is today. Ships had longer schedules and arranging and accomplishing a passage usually took months.

My father came to this country fully intending to introduce the new instrument, the piano accordion, to the American public. The Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition presented an excellent opportunity and he used it and followed it up with another exposition appearance at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Diego, California (1916). It was his style. He certainly didn't come here to work in the mines, like his younger brother Pietro. He was already an accomplished public performer and immediately and ambitiously sought every way to advance into stardom.

He achieved that stardom perhaps sooner than he expected. In 1910 he was discovered by an agent for the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit, and rapidly became a headliner: one of the most popular and highest paid acts on the entire bill.

Image from the top of the government building.
Photograph of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. A stunning view of Mt. Rainier is framed by the Court of Honor, the steps of water called the Cascades, and Geyser Basin (now Drumheller Fountain). The photograph was taken from the top of the Government Building.

This story is corroborated by newspaper articles in the Deiro Scrapbooks. One article (ca. 1913) in Scrapbook One, page 13, succinctly stated:

Deiro not long ago was a street musician at Torreon. He made music at night and clerked in his father's store by day. At the age of 21 Deiro became associated with a firm as an agent. Demonstrating his wares so well he was sent to the Alaskan exposition at Seattle in the company's interests. Then he went to San Francisco. There he signed an Orpheum contract.
Another article published in a Des Moines newspaper ca. 1911 titled "GUIDO DEIRO ONCE A STREET MUSICIAN," explained in rambling fashion:
Italy is the land of wasted genius. Also the land of undiscovered artists. Attest -- Guido Deiro, master of the piano accordeon. Orpheum theater, Des Moines, for one week.

Thus quoth he of the genial smile and daring eye, who is entertaining in admirable manner, last night just before he went on to renwer [sic] "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and various other "classics," and to set the audience to wondering just how he gets so much music out of that strange instrument, so melodious and yet so uncommon.

To illustrate, Guido Deiro was not long ago just one of the many street musicians in his home town, Torreon, Italy, although accounted the best among his fellows. But in those days he did not allow his mind to soar to the heights of even imagined glory or to the time when he would evoke cheer after cheer from the American audience. He was only a street musician at night, in the day one of the clerks in his father's mercantile establishment.

Now, as his card implies, he might be called the master of the piano accordeon; at least, he is in America. He has played from coast to coast and has the only act of its kind on the Orpheum circuit.

How He Broke Into Game.

But as to how he broke into the theatrical game. The story is not a long one.

On gaining his majority, Deiro became associated with a firm which manufactured musical instruments, chief among which were the piano accordeons. In the employ of this concern he traveled well over Europe -- so well that he learned to speak both the French and German languages -- demonstrating and selling his wares to such an advantage that he was sent to Seattle, Wash., two years ago to attend the Alaskan exposition. Then to San Francisco went he, to exploit his goods and incidentally to become acquainted with one of the Orpheum managers, who liked his playing. Then came the contract.

Another article published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (ca. 1916) titled "The Call to Art and Arms," not only mentioned Deiro's business trip to America, but also a disagreement with his father: apparently his father wanted him to become not a musician, but a lawyer and had even enrolled him in a law school until the rebellious eighteen-year-old son ran away from college with a girl to Switzerland.
Deiro is playing at the Hippodrome this week, and is making the hit that has been his record in all the cities that have heard him, cities all the way from one coast to the other. Playing an accordion, even so well as Deiro plays it, cannot be called a very martial pursuit. However, Deiro himself will explain all of this, and also how he narrowly escaped being an Italian lawyer. These things Deiro will tell, including a little elopement episode that had its beginnings in Italy and its end in Switzerland. . .

Here Deiro explained that he would serve if necessary in the Italian army again if called by his country of birth, but that he would prefer to remain in the United States, his country of citizenship, as a vaudeville accordion entertainer. (See End note 1.)
"I would rather play than fight."
Deiro then explained how he learned to play the accordion.

[The accordion] hasn't failed as his means of livelihood, either. . . There was one break in his accordion pursuit, however, and that was when he had to play a baritone horn in his regiment band. Here, though, is the way his legal education suffered an interruption. He was attending college but had a difference with his father, he said. This was when he was 18. "I ran away to Switzerland," he said smilingly. "I guess I was kind of in love with the girl."

And you know that love laughs at such things as parental objections and the pursuit of legal learning and everything. However, Deiro added that eventually he and his father became reconciled, but the law idea had rather filtered out of his mind. He had a chance to come to America to introduce accordions of a certain Italian make that he had been using -- for by this time Deiro was quite well known in his own country -- but not as a professional was he destined to make his start in America.

"It was a commercial suggestion," he said. "But I hadn't been here long playing for my own amusement and for the purpose of demonstrating this instrument that they asked me to go into vaudeville, and here I am to stay, . ."

Post card from the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle, 1909.
Guido Deiro may have demonstrated his accordions in a small booth along "The Pay Streak," the fair's entertainment area, alongside kiosks featuring Alaskan eskimos, native American Indians, Canadian cowboys, dancers from Cairo, rickshaw drivers from China, miners from the 1897 Klondike gold rush in Alaska and the Yukon, and native peoples from the Philippines, the Igorrotes, who lived through the entire fair in a replica of one of their villages.

Click Here (219 KB): to read the entire Cleveland Plain Dealer article quoted above.

Click Here (31 KB): to read a Portland Oregon newspaper article (ca. 1935) which states that Deiro introduced the piano accordion at the Alaska-Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

Click Here to read an article about the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition titled Open: A World of Wonders, which appeared in The Seattle Times (February 18, 1996).

Images above courtesy of Special Collections, University Archives Division, University of Washington Libraries.

End note 1: Although the Cleveland Plain Dealer article (ca. 1916) above quotes Deiro as claiming American citizenship, the truth of the matter as ascertained by documents in the Deiro Archive is that Deiro did not become a United States citizen until immediately prior to his first world tour in 1928.

Back Next

Back to the Contents Page

Back to the Homepage of Guido Deiro