In the winter of 1901, tourists enjoying the luxurious weather and swanky resort hotels of southern California were intrigued by a handbill widely distributed throughout Pasadena, Altadena and nearby towns. “Visit the Ostrich Farm—100 Gigantic Birds,” the bill proclaimed in bold typeface above a black and white photo of the long-necked, prehistoric-looking creatures. The farm, owned and operated by transplanted British entrepreneur Edwin Cawston, was the only one of its kind in the United States and a well-established attraction in the early decades of the 20th century. Cawston had started out, in the mid 1880s, with 50 ostriches imported from Africa. By the second decade of the new century, more than 1000 birds roamed the grounds. Visitors, most of whom had never seen a live ostrich, paid to gawk at and feed the awkward birds, while farm hands entertained the crowds by riding the exotic creatures bare-back . The Cawston farm was also well known in the fashion industry for its prize-wining ostrich feathers, then in high demand for women’s hats and feather boas. Plucked once every nine months and dyed a rainbow of alluring colors, Cawston’s feathers achieved international fame when they won first prize at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900.
Beyond the farm’s usual attractions, however, the 1901 ad featured an extra enticement—a giant, concentrating solar motor, “the only machine of its kind in the world in daily operation,” according to the handbill, on display for no extra charge.