In 1904 St. Louis hosted the world at a major international World's Fair. The Fair celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. It was delayed from a planned opening in 1903 to 1904 allow for full-scale participation by more states and foreign countries. The Fair opened April 30, 1904, and closed December 1, 1904. Of notable interest is that St. Louis had held an annual Saint Louis Exposition (1884) since the 1880s as agricultural, trade, and scientific exhibitions, but this event was not held in 1904 due to the World's Fair.
The Fair's 1,200 acre (4.9 km²) site, designed by George Kessler , was located at the present-day grounds of Forest Park and on the campus of Washington University, and was the largest fair to date. There were over 1,500 buildings, connected by some 75 miles (120 km) of roads and walkways. It was said to be impossible to give even a hurried glance at everything in less than a week. The Palace of Agriculture alone covered some 20 acres (324,000 m²).
Exhibits were staged by 62 foreign nations, the United States government, and 43 of the then-45 U.S. states. These featured industries, cities, private organizations and corporations, theater troupes, and music schools. There were also over 50 concession-type amusements found on "The Pike"; they provided educational and scientific displays, exhibits and imaginary 'travel' to distant lands, history and local boosterism (including Louis Wollbrinck's "Old St. Louis") and pure entertainment.
Kessler, who designed many urban parks in Texas and the Midwest, created the master design for the Fair.
A popular myth says that Frederick Law Olmsted, who died the year before the fair, designed the park and fair grounds. There are several reasons for this confusion. First, Kessler in his twenties had worked briefly for Olmsted as a Central Park gardener. Second, Olmsted was involved with Forest Park in Queens, New York. Third, Olmsted had planned the renovations to the Missouri Botanical Garden a few blocks to the southeast of the park in 1897. Finally, Olmsted's sons advised Washington University on integrating the campus with the park across the street.
In 1901, the commissioner of architects of the St. Louis Exposition selected Emmanuel Louis Masqueray to be Chief of Design. As Chief of Design of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a position he held for three years, Masqueray designed the following Fair buildings: Palace of Agriculture, the Cascades and Colonnades, Palace of Forestry, Fish, and Game, Palace of Horticulture and Palace of Transportation, all of which were widely emulated in civic projects across the United States as part of the City Beautiful movement. Masqueray resigned shortly after the Fair opened in 1904, having been invited by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul to come to Minnesota and design a new cathedral for the city.
As with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, all but one of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition's grand, neo-Classical exhibition palaces were temporary structures, designed to last but a year or two. They were built with a material called "staff," a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers, on a wood frame. As at the Chicago world's fair, buildings and statues deteriorated during the months of the Fair, and had to be patched.
The Palace of Fine Art, designed by architect Cass Gilbert, featured a grand interior sculpture court based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Standing at the top of Art Hill, it now serves as the home of the St. Louis Art Museum.
The Administration Building is now Brookings Hall, the defining landmark on the campus of Washington University. A copy of the building was erected at Northwest Missouri State University founded in 1905 in Maryville, Missouri. The grounds layout was also recreated in Maryville and now is designated as the official Missouri State Arboretum.
Some of the mansions from the Exposition's era survive along Lindell Boulevard at the north border of Forest Park. The huge bird cage at the Saint Louis Zoological Park, dates to the fair.
The Missouri State building was the largest of the state buildings, as Missouri was the host state. Though it had sections with marble floors and heating and air conditioning, it was planned to be a temporary structure. However, it burned the night of November 18–19, just eleven days before the Fair was to end. Most of the interior was destroyed, but some of the contents were rescued without damage, including some furniture and much of the contents of the fair's Model Library. Since the fair was almost over, the building was not rebuilt. After the fair, the current World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park was built on the site of the Missouri building with profits from the fair in 1909-10.
Festival Hall contained the largest organ in the world at the time, built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company. After the fair, it was placed into storage, and eventually purchased by John Wanamaker for his new Wanamaker's store in Philadelphia. See Wanamaker Organ for more details. The famous Bronze Eagle in the Wanamaker Store also came from the Fair. It features hundreds of hand-forged bronze feathers and was the centerpiece of one of the many German exhibits at the fair. Wanamakers became a Lord & Taylor store, and more recently a Macy's store.
Completed in 1913, the Jefferson Memorial building was built near the main entrance to the Exposition, at Lindell and DeBalivere. It was built with proceeds from the fair, to commemorate Thomas Jefferson, who initiated the Louisiana Purchase, as was the first memorial to our third President. It became the headquarters of the Missouri History Museum, and stored the Exposition's records and archives when the Louisiana Purchase Exposition company completed its mission. The building is now home to the Missouri History Museum, and the museum was significantly expanded in 2002-3.
The State of Maine Building, which was a rustic cabin, was trasnported to Point Lookout, Missouri where it overlooked the White River by sportsmen who formed the Maine Hunting and Fishing Club. In 1915 when the main building at the College of the Ozarks in Forsyth, Missouri burned. The school then relocated to Point Lookout where the Maine building was renamed the Dobyns Building in honor of a school president. The Dobyns Building burned in 1930 and the college's signature church was built in its place. In 2004, a replica of the Maine building was built on the campus. The Keeter Center is named for another school president.
A number of foods are claimed to have been invented at the fair. The most popular claim is that the waffle-style ice cream cone was invented and first sold during the fair. However, it is widely believed that it was not invented at the Fair, but instead, it was popularized at the Fair. Other claims are more dubious, including the hamburger and hot dog (both traditional American foods), peanut butter, iced tea, and cotton candy. It is more likely, however, that these food items were first introduced to mass audiences and popularized by the fair. Dr Pepper and Puffed Wheat cereal were first introduced to a national audience at the fair.
The fair inspired the song "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis", which was recorded by many artists, including Billy Murray. Both the fair and the song are focal points of the 1944 feature film Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland, which also inspired a Broadway musical version.
Following the Spanish–American War, the United States acquired new territories such as Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, allowing them to "display" some of the native inhabitants. Some of these displays include the Apache and the Igorot, both of which were dubbed as "primitive". According to the Rev. Sequoyah Ade,
To further illustrate the indignities heaped upon the Philippine people following their eventual loss to the Americans, the United States made the Philippine campaign the centrepoint of the 1904 World's Fair held that year in St. Louis, MI [sic]. In what was enthusiastically termed a "parade of evolutionary progress," visitors could inspect the "primitives" that represented the counterbalance to "Civilisation" justifying Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Pygmies from New Guinea and Africa, who were later displayed in the Primate section of the Bronx Zoo, were paraded next to American Indians such as Apache warrior Geronimo, who sold his autograph. But the main draw was the Philippine exhibit complete with full size replicas of Indigenous living quarters erected to exhibit the inherent backwardness of the Philippine people. The purpose was to highlight both the "civilising" influence of American rule and the economic potential of the island chains' natural resources on the heels of the Philippine-America War. It was, reportedly, the largest specific Aboriginal exhibit displayed in the exposition. As one pleased visitor commented, the human zoo exhibit displayed "the race narrative of odd peoples who mark time while the world advances, and of savages made, by American methods, into civilized workers."
After the fair was completed, many of the international exhibits were not returned to their country of origin, but were dispersed to museums in the United States. For example, the Philippine exhibits were acquired by the Museum of Natural History, at the University of Iowa. The great organ in Festival Hall eventually became the nucleus of the Wanamaker Organ in John Wanamaker's palatial Philadelphia department store, where a famous bronze Eagle from the German exhibits is also on display in the Grand Court. The Vulcan statue is today a prominent feature of a park and rises above Birmingham, Ala.
The Fair hosted the 1904 Summer Olympic Games, the first Olympics held in the United States. These games had originally been awarded to Chicago, but when St. Louis threatened to hold a rival international competition, the games were relocated. Nonetheless, the sporting events, spread out over several months, were overshadowed by the Fair. With travel expenses high, many European athletes did not come, nor did modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
Frank Fillis produced what was supposedly "the greatest and most realistic military spectacle known in the history of the world". Different portions of the concession featured a British Army encampment, several South African native villages (including Zulu, Bushmen, Swazi, and Ndebele) and a 15 acre arena in which soldiers paraded, sporting events and horse races were held and major battles from the Second Boer War were re-enacted twice a day. Battle recreations took 2–3 hours and included several Generals and 600 veteran soldiers from both sides of the war. At the conclusion of the show, the Boer General Christiaan de Wet would escape on horseback by leaping from a height of 35 feet (11 m) into a pool of water.
Admission ranged from 25 cents for bleacher seats to $1.00 for box seats, and admission to the villages was another 25 cents. The concession cost $48,000 to construct, grossed over $630,000, and netted about $113,000 to the Fair—the highest grossing military concession of the Fair.
Notable attendees included John Philip Sousa, whose band performed on opening day and several times during the fair. Scott Joplin and Thomas Edison are claimed to have attended. President Theodore Roosevelt opened the fair via telegraph, but did not attend personally until after his re-election in November 1904, as he claimed he did not want to use the fair for political purposes.
The famous French organist Alexandre Guilmant played a famous series of 40 recitals from memory on the great organ in Festival Hall, then the largest pipe organ in the world.
Geronimo, the famous former war chief of the Apache was "on display" in a teepee in the Ethnology Exhibit.
9. History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Compiled from official sources by Mark Bennitt, editor-in-chief and Frank Parker Stockbridge, managing editor, Universal Exposition publishing company, 1905. 800 pages, 4000+ pictures. (not yet on-line)
10. The Universal Exposition of 1904 by David R. Francis. Two volumes, 7.5" x 10.5", 702 and 427 pages, St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, 1913. On-line at: http://imageserver.mohistory.org/library.asp?setrelation=universal (with search feature), index at: http://previous.slpl.org/libsrc/univ-exp.htm (alphabetical, but not at the detail level)
Exposition Universelle (1900)