If you've spent any time at all in Redwood City, you know what we're talking about: The sign! (Or signs, plural.) They say "Redwood City" across the top, and, in smaller font, is the city's slogan: "Climate Best by Government Test." Been there forever. Sounds kinda official. But is it?
“Does Redwood City actually have the best weather?” asks Lauren Tankeh of San Carlos, which lies just north of Redwood City. "I think it’s a little nicer in San Carlos. I think we actually have nicer weather." There seems to be a somewhat competitive quality to Tankeh's query. Time for a climate throw-down here in the Bay?
According to Michael Svanevik, historian and retired professor at the College of San Mateo, the sign's origin dates back to 1925. At the time, Peninsula farmland had long given way to the suburbs of San Francisco, thanks to two things: the railroad that runs from San Francisco to San José (where Caltrain runs today), and El Camino Real, then called the County Road.
The mood of the day was growth. Many of the city founders owned a lot of real estate they bought on the cheap, and they were keen to sell it for profit. Also, there was lots of competition among the cities on the Peninsula, all vying for new residents.
"Right after [World War I], they started a number of advertising campaigns to attract people into their different communities," Svanevik said.
San Mateo built an amusement park, the ill-fated Pacific City, which may have been the most ambitious concept. Many cities just came up with slogans. Our question-asker Tankeh knows the one for her hometown, San Carlos: "The City of Good Living."
In 1925, the Redwood City Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Board sponsored a contest for a slogan that would sum up the charms of Redwood City. Conveniently, the guy who won the contest was heavily involved in organizing the contest, in thick with the city founders because he was one himself: Wilbur Doxsee, the president of the Redwood City Chamber of Commerce.
Doxsee’s winning slogan? The one that beat out 78 other entries? "By Government Test, Our Climate Is Best" — later shortened to the somewhat catchier "Climate Best by Government Test."
Svanevik said, "Immediately, somebody came forth and said, 'Wilbur Doxsee, how do you know that's true?' And he said, 'I don't. I made it up.'"
Doxsee made the slogan up, but Svanevik suspects he was thinking of his friend, amateur meteorologist Henry C. Finkler. "He owned all the property that is today [Edgewood Park]," said Svanevik. That's more than 450 acres.
"Henry C. Finkler was a bicyclist. And he became, I have to say, fanatically interested in weather. And he recorded, every day he rode down the hill, what the air temperature was, what the winds were, the number of days of rain," Svanevik said.
It’s Finkler who first claimed there were only three parts of the world that had perfect weather: the Canary Islands off the coast of northwestern Africa, North Africa's Mediterranean Coast, and anything within a 20-mile radius of Redwood City.
Finkler was buddies with a fellow cyclist, Franklin Lane, who was secretary of the interior under Woodrow Wilson when the U.S. got involved in World War I. Lane remembered his buddy Finkler with the weather research and, on the basis of that, convinced President Wilson to establish one of the first military bases on the West Coast, Camp Fremont, in Menlo Park. (This put Menlo Park on the map, so to speak.)
Another way Doxsee may have been inspired comes from a nonmilitary, German weather survey conducted before World War I by the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, a government research outfit in Berlin.
"In 1912, the German government asked counselor agents all over the world to send in statistics about weather in their area. Need I tell you not many people keep weather statistics. Well, Henry Finkler has it all," Svanevik said.
Theory goes: Doxsee read an article in The San Francisco Chronicle about the climate survey, and this was how Finkler’s assessment of Redwood City got national, and even international, attention. Doxsee’s slogan sealed the deal.
"I feel almost cheated," said our listener upon learning how bogus the science behind the sign was. She was thinking this story would go in an entirely different direction: "You know, is this test outdated? Has climate change shifted the best weather a little bit north to San Carlos?"
There is, of course, a good argument to be made that “best” weather is a purely subjective title. Lots of people love rain and fog. Some people like it hot. Speaking for myself, I think the weather on the Peninsula sits in the Goldilocks Zone: not too hot, not too cold, most of the time.
Which is to say, I think Finkler and Doxsee got it right. But then, I don't live in San Carlos.
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