The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair
Myths and Legends:  Fair STRUCTURES?

1904 W.F. Society

        1. The World's Fair Pavilion
        2. The Jefferson Memorial History Museum
        3. The Statue of St. Louis
        4. The Bird Cage
        5. The Art Museum
        6. Washington University
        7. The Ferris Wheel Axle - Was it lost ?
        8. Missouri State Building - Was it a permanent building ?
        9. The Boundary Fence of the Fair
        10. Fire Hydrants
        11. Controlled Flight - at the fair?

References: In addition to the websites listed below, the following reference materials were also used:

  1. Mark Bennitt, The History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1905.
  2. David R. Francis, The Universal Exposition of 1904, 1913.
  3. Souvenir World's Fair booklets, from 1904.

1. The World's Fair Pavilion was built for the Fair. (False)

The present pavilion was not built for or during the Fair. It was built as part of the Forest Park restoration in 1909-10 (1910, according to most references) as a public shelter and refreshment stand. Located on Government Hill, the location of the fair's Missouri Building, the $35,000-$40,000 cost was from proceeds from the Fair.

  • The World's Fair Pavilion was restored in 1980 and again in the summer of 1998.

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2. The Jefferson Memorial History Museum was built for the Fair. (False)

The major exhibit hall and home of the Missouri Historical Society was built in 1913 with proceeds from the Fair. The Jefferson Memorial, located on the site of the main entrance of the Fair, was dedicated on April 30, 1913. Construction took two years and cost $450,000 to $480,000. It was the first national monument to the country's third President.

  • Additional recent expansions and restorations added a new wing, the Emerson Center, to the museum in 2000.

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3. The Statue of St. Louis was made for the Fair (True, mostly)

The equestrian statue of Louis IX, the city's patron saint, was sculpted by Charles Niehaus. It was originally made from staff for the 1904 Fair, and titled "The Apotheosis of St. Louis". It stood just inside the Fair's main entrance. It also had a smaller statuary group titled "St. Louis and Her Guiding Spirits".

  • The quotation "Genius Points, Inspiration Whispers, Nothing Impossible" is often used for this smaller statuary group, as the phrase "Nothing Impossible" is on a banner held by the spirits. "Noting Impossible" became the fair's motto, and was often quoted.
  • After the fair, the large statue was recast in bronze for $40,000 by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company.
  • It was given to the city of St. Louis on Oct 4, 1906, and placed atop Art Hill, in front of the Art Museum (the former Palace of Art).

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4. The Bird Cage was built for the Fair. (True)

This mammoth "Flight Cage" was designed by Frank Baker, Superintendent of the National Zoo, a part of the Smithsonian Institution. Built to house the U.S. Bird Exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, it cost $17,500 to construct. The city of St. Louis purchased the Flight Cage (with no birds) for $3,500 in 1905, and this helped lead to the formal establishment of the Saint Louis Zoo in 1916.

  • It was the largest bird cage ever built in 1904, at 228 feet long, 84 feet wide, and 50 feet high, and was divided into two lengthwise sections.
  • Although visitors to the Fair could walk through the cage in a fenced 'tunnel', they did not have personal contact with the birds.
  • The Flight Cage has come to be known as the Bird Cage. In 2003-2004, the bird cage is undergoing massive renovation, and will reopen in 2004 to showcase native Missouri animals and ecosystems. The previous cage residents, including the flamingos, have been relocated to other parts of the zoo.


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5. The Art Museum was built for the Fair. (True)

Designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert as the Palace of Fine Arts (or Palace of Art), the Art Museum was built for the 1904 World's Fair. Standing atop Art Hill and overlooking the Grand Basin, it was the Fair's only major display building built as a permanent structure. This followed the lead of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair in leaving a major facility as its legacy. It was turned over to the city of St. Louis in 1906.

  • The two statues aside the main entrance to the Palace were originally made of staff and entitled "Painting" and "Sculpture". The original sculptors were asked to refashion the statues in marble at a cost of $10,000. They can still be seen today at the front entrance to the museum.



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6. Washington University was built for the Fair. (Partly True)

The Exposition company leased 13 buildings of the newly-built facilities at Washington University in 1901 for $650,000. They were used for administration and offices space during the fair's construction, and as office, working, and exhibit areas during the Fair. The university's main building (now Brookings Hall) was the fair's Administration Building, and the athletic facilities and gymnasium supported the 1904 Olympic Games--the gymnasium was called the Physical Culture building during the fair.

  • The Administration Building was the official reception hall used to meet dignitaries and other Fair-going VIPs and also served as an exhibit of a model university.
  • The gymnasium and athletic field (named Francis Field in honor of the Fair's President David R. Francis) are still in use today at Washington University. As the site of the 1904 Olympic Games, they hosted the first Olympiad held in the United States. The stadium was the first concrete stadium in the U.S.

Several other Washington University buildings were also used as fair facilities, as the Congress of Arts and Sciences, offices for the Division of Works and Lady Managers, the Jefferson Guard barracks, Anthropology exhibits, and displays of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee gifts and jewels.

An additional $100,000 rent was paid to Washington University by the Exposition Company when the Fair was delayed to 1904. The funds were used to build additional facilities for the Fair and University.

The 1904 Democratic Convention was held at the Hall of Congresses, now Ridgley Library.

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7. The Ferris Wheel Axle is buried in Forest Park. (Unknown)

The Ferris Wheel's axle was 32 inches in diameter, 45 feet long, 70 tons, and the largest single piece of forged steel at the time in the world. No one knows for sure if the axle was taken away after the wheel was destroyed for scrap, or buried on the Fairgrounds. Efforts to locate the buried axle or to find definitive proof of its removal have been unsuccessful to date.

  • The great 264' Ferris Wheel was first used at the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. It had 36 wooden cars (constructed from modified railroad cars), each holding 60 people, for a total capacity 2160 people. A guide was stationed in each car, which could be rented for special events. Marriages and full course dinners took place on the Wheel.
  • Rides cost 50 cents for two revolutions (of about 15-20 minutes each).
  • The Ferris Wheel hosted marriages, dinner parties, or games.
  • The great wheel was brought to St. Louis for the 1904 Fair, where it opened in late May; the Fair had opened on April 30. After the St. Louis Fair, the Ferris wheel was sold for scrap when a sale to Coney Island failed to materialize. It was destroyed with 100 pounds of dynamite (after several attempts), and the parts taken away for salvage. Local legend says the Ferris Wheel's axle was buried with the rest of the fair's rubble in makeshift landfills at Forest Park.

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8. The Missouri State Building was built as a permanent exhibit building. (False)

A World's Fair handout "The State of Missouri at the World's Fair, Guide to Missouri Exhibits" states "It is a temporary structure." The handout has a map of the fairgrounds, indicating the location of Missouri's contributions.

  • The story likely gained some credence by the size of the host state's building (the largest state building by far at over 300' by 160') and its construction.

It was warmed by steam in cold weather, and cooled by refrigeration in hot weather (very popular place on St. Louis summer days).

A large, gilded dome topped by a statue "The Spirit of Missouri" enclosed a 76' square rotunda.

Some floors were finished with various marble tiles.

The Missouri Building burned on November 19, 1904, 11 days before the Fair ended.

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9. The Concrete Boundary Fence was built for the Fair. (False)

In the forward to Margaret Witherspoon's book "Remembering the St. Louis World's Fair" (1973), she notes that the "crumbling concrete wall along Forest Park Expressway...was built to form the northern boundary of the Fair Grounds". However, there is no proof that this particular concrete fence was built before of for the Fair. It has been documented that this fence was built after the Fair, probably to separate Forest Park and the train tracks from the residential areas just north of the fairgrounds.

  • The website for the First National Bank of St. Louis states that "March 13, 1903 - the Trust Company approved a $4,500 bond to finance the construction of a fence around a site that in 1904 would become the St. Louis World's Fair". This was probably a wooden and wire fence to act as a construction (and Fair) boundary.

  • An article by Pam Droog in the April 2003 issue of St. Louis Commerce magazine states that "Other visible traces of the Fair are the fragments of the cement fence that marked the fairgrounds' northern boundary, along the Forest Park Parkway east of Skinker Blvd." This reference probably just used the Witherspoon information as a reference, though incorrectly.
  • However, research and photographs from the Fair do not reveal such a concrete fence, even along the north boundary. Normally, a wire mesh (or wooden) fence was seen as the Fair's boundary.
  • Finally, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis performed research on this in the mid-1980s. They found that photos of the Fair (and through 1908) and a 1909 survey do NOT show the wall, though it appears in post-1910 pictures and documents. They conclude that "the wall belongs to post-fair development on Lindell, and was put up simply to screen residents from streetcar traffic along the route of what is now Forest Park Expressway."

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10. Fire Hydrants in the middle of Forest Park were built for the Fair (True)

Several hydrants can still be seen along the road between the Zoo and Museum, and on the sides and 'extended' sides of the Grand Basin. However, some fair pictures depict different hydrants, suggesting that they have been 're-topped'.

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11. Controlled flight was first demonstrated at the Fair (True)

On October 25 1904, Roy Knabenshue flew T. S. Baldwin's "California Arrow" powered balloon for 37 minutes, and to a height of 2,000 feet over the fairgrounds.

  • A 12-acre aeronautic concourse was surrounded by a 30-foot high fence, and had an aerodrome, or balloon house for inflating balloons. Gliders, kites, captive balloons, and motorized balloons were flown.

  • A prize of $100,000 was offered to the person who could navigate an airship over an L-shaped course of about 15 miles within an hours, returning to the starting point. It was not awarded.
  • Several balloons and airships flew at the fair. The most successful airship was the "California Arrow", built by T. S. Baldwin. On October 25, Roy Knabenshue flew for 37 minutes, and to a height of 2,000 feet over the fairgrounds. He stood on a triangular framework below the oblong balloon, and turned by shifting his weight. He later became America's first dirigible pilot, and went on to build the first passenger dirigible in the U.S.

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