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Kokichi Mikimoto's Pearl Model of the Mansion

A pearl model of George Washington's Mansion was unveiled at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 from over 24,000 pearls. It was created by Kokichi Mikimoto, the inventor of the 19th century process of culturing pearls.

Kokichi Mikimoto's model of the Mansion is made up of 5,184 pearls and 12,000 pieces of mother-of-pearl. The lawn consists of over 6,000 pearls.

Mikimoto, who invented the process of culturing pearls in 1893, created the pearl model of the Mansion in 1932 and presented it as a gift to honor the American people.

Visiting America's Number One Ancestor

In 1926, "The Pearl King" visited Mount Vernon and enjoyed a grated meditation at the tranquil site of Washington's Tomb. "Mikimoto often went to the little shrine at Toba [his home] to report to his ancestors... on the progress he was making. Consequently, it was perfectly natural for him to visit what he considered the shrine of the American people and report to their Number One ancestor," noted Robert Eunson in his biography of Mikimoto.

Just a few years after Mikimoto's celebrated tour of the United States - which included a visit with his hero Thomas Edison - Mrs. Woodrow Wilson visited Mikimoto on Tatoku Island in Japan and presented the inventor with a miniature sculpture of Mount Vernon. Inspired, Mikimoto spent the next 15 months crafting the pearl Mansion.

The 1933 World's Fair

In 1933, the pearl model was presented as a gift to the people of the United States and exhibited at the Chicago Exposition. A part of the Century of Progress exhibit, the model was described as a "tribute of Mr. K. Mikimoto to the friendships existing between Japan and the United States." It was then valued at $500,000.

After the Exposition, Mikimoto donated the model to the Smithsonian Institution.

Modern photo of Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon (MVLA)

At the turn of the century, the rarity of a perfectly spherical natural pearl caused prices to skyrocket. Mikimoto's cultured pearl was an attractive and affordable alternative (Wikimedia)

Mikimoto's Masterpiece Comes to Mount Vernon

In the late 1990's, Mikimoto's pearl model of George Washington's home was put on loan from the Smithsonian Institute and prominently displayed in the museum at Mount Vernon.

Then president of K. Mikimoto & Company, Toyohiko Mikimoto, traveled from Tokyo with Ambassador Saito, to unveil the diminutive Mount Vernon, which measures 10 by 16 inches. Mr. Mikimoto remarked on the model's continuing symbolism as a bridge between two great nations.

In his comments about the healing that had taken place between America and Japan since the second world war, Ambassador Saito quoted George Washington, who said:

true friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shock of adversity.

From left to right: Toyohiko Mikimoto, president of K. Mikimoto & Company, traveled from Tokyo, Japan for the event; Mrs. Clarence M. Bishop, Vice Regent for Oregon, spearheaded the project and hosted the cermony; Ambassador Saito, who evoked George Washington in his remarks on the relationship between America and Japan.

Photography by Harry Connolly

Other Famous Japanese Visitors

Mount Vernon has attracted the interest of Japanese leaders for the past century.

Prince Yoshihisa Tokugawa

In 1918, Prince Tokugawa was so impressed with the collections at Mount Vernon that he contributed $1,000, which allowed the purchase of a sash worn by George Washington during the French and Indian War.

Imperial Prince & Princess Asaka

The Imperial Prince and Princess Asaka traveled to the estate with President Calvin Coolidge in 1925.

Emperor Hirohito

Emperor and Mrs. Hirohito were guests at Mount Vernon in 1975. Emperor Hirohito also met with President Gerald Ford at the White House, and famously took a trip to Disneyland during his visit.

The Imperial Prince and Princess Asaka in the early 20th century (Library of Congress)

From the Collections: The Braddock Sash

At the Battle of the Monongahela on July 9, 1755, every officer on Major General Edward Braddock's staff was injured or killed, with the exception of his aide-de-camp, George Washington. Family tradition maintains that Braddock presented the sash to Washington prior to his death four days later.

The Braddock sash was purchased with funds donated by Prince Yoshihisa Tokugawa, 1918, and returned to the collection at Mount Vernon.

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