Celebrating Petaluma's quirky history

Petaluma is known for eggs, but were you aware it is also big on arm wrestling? Take a look at photos of fun and funky contests in the city from yesterday and today.|

Last week Petaluma was recognized on Slate.com for its history as “not only the egg capital of the world but also the arm wrestling capital of the world.” Although these titles garnered Petaluma global attention, the city's cherished quirkiness extends beyond those two recognitions.

The notoriety started back in the 1879, when Lyman Byce invented an egg incubator that was capable of maintaining a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit for three weeks. This innovation freed up hens to lay more eggs. Combined with the introduction of the Single Comb White Leghorn chicken - capable of laying 200 eggs a year - Petaluma's egg production skyrocketed.

By 1918, Petaluma was considered a world leader in the chicken and egg industry. A Chamber of Commerce campaign gave the city the title, “Egg Basket of the World,” and started the Egg Days Parade to celebrate the burgeoning industry. Fluffy chicken costumed Petalumans marched down the streets. Giant frying pan exhibits were displayed. The event was so popular, even the governor attended. The original parade ended in 1926, but was resurrected in 1982, renamed Butter and Egg Days to highlight the dairy industry's connection to the town. To this day, the good eggs in Petaluma can be seen in their finest fluffery, celebrating their historical roots.

Slate also brings up Petaluma's status as the “arm wrestling capital of the world,” a title brought to the city through the efforts of cherished Argus-Courier columnist Bill Soberanes. Back in the 1950s, patrons of Gilardi's Saloon would demonstrate feats of strength in what was then called “wristwrestling” contests. The matches caught the notice of Sobranes, who was fond of writing about the characters of Petaluma that gave the city its charm. Jack Homel, a visiting trainer for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, was overheard bragging that he never lost a match at the bar. Determined to promote the strength of our local farmers, Sobranes challenged Homel in 1955 to compete against Oliver Kulberg, a local rancher known to be the “strongest” man in Sonoma County. The bout ended in a draw as the competition table collapsed to the ground. Thus, a Petaluma tradition was born. It continued to be held in Petaluma for several years, gaining national attention in 1969 when co-founder David DeVoto contracted with ABC to have it aired on the Wide World of Sports. Following Soberanes' death in 2003, the bouts moved to Reno.

While Slate shared some of the historical quirkiness of Petaluma, it failed to mention two other Soberanes-inspired contests held in Petaluma - Whiskerino and the World's Ugliest Dog Contest.

The Whiskerino mustache and beard contest was first held in 1958 as one of the events in the Petaluma Centennial Celebration held at the Old Adobe. The unusual contest involving the “Brothers of Brush” celebrates achievements in facial hair artistry. Now called the Bill Soberanes Memorial Petaluma Whiskerino, the 58th contest was celebrated this year with both men and women joining in the fun.

The World's Ugliest Dog Contest was also promoted by Soberanes. At a barbecue of Petaluma's Old Adobe Association in 1971, contest founder Ross Smith suggested they turn the organizations annual pet parade into an ugly dog contest. Quickly becoming a huge success, the event celebrates beauty-challenged canines and attracts contestants world-wide. In 1988, the Sonoma-Marin Fair took over the contest, and it eventually became a trademarked event.

Click through our gallery of historic photos of these fun and funky Petaluma contests and festivals.

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