The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair
In 1904, the attention of America and the entire world turned to
St. Louis and the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The fourth largest
city in the United States,
St. Louis hosted
"The Greatest of Expositions" for 7 months. By far the largest of the
several Victorian-era world's fairs, it occupied over 1,200 acres at the
Western edge of St. Louis, including the western
half of Forest Park.
Also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the Fair commemorated
the 1803 purchase of territory that more than doubled the size of the United States.
Though originally planned to take place in 1903, the Fair was delayed to 1904
in order to complete the construction of state and foreign buildings, and to
permit the gathering of the thousands of exhibits.
From April 30 to December 1, 1904, the Fair
displayed the art, science, and cultures of the entire world. Over twelve
million visitors paid 50 cents admission to enter the magical Fair. About 60 countries,
43 of the then-45 U.S.
states and several U.S.
territories, and hundreds of manufacturers and companies gathered together to
put on an unsurpassed display of civilization, history, and culture. On display
were the latest manufacturing products and processes, scientific inventions and
innovations, agricultural advances, and famous paintings, sculptures, and art
The 1904 World's Fair Society was
formed in April 1986 when a handful of Fair enthusiasts and collectors met to
discuss their common interests . Dedicated to keeping alive the memory and
memorabilia of the Fair, the Society now has over 500 members. A monthly
bulletin provides articles on Fair history and Society activities, which
include meetings and parties, a speaker's bureau, and Fair exhibits. More
information about the Society and the 1904 World's Fair can be found on the
Society's web page at: www.1904worldsfairsociety.org.
most-asked question about the 1904 World's Fair is "What
happened to all those magnificent buildings?", or in another way,
"Why did they tear it all down?"
--> Well, in early 1902,
time was tight to build these
giant exhibit halls (called Palaces). The
1904 World's Fair managers (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company) decided
to follow the lead of other World's Fairs. They designed and built most of
the large buildings to be temporary
structures. By agreement with the city of St. Louis, one large
building would be built to be permanent: the Palace of Art (see picture
is now the St. Louis Art Museum. The temporary buildings were built on a
framework of wood, and covered with a material called
staff, which was formed into columns,
statuary, walls, stairs, etc. It could be easily repaired and patched
(and often was). After the Fair, the Fair's buildings were demolished, and
all items and materials that could be salvaged and sold were "recycled"
by the salvage company, the Chicago Home Wrecking Company.
There are countless Fair facts and amazing
achievements that continue to astonish people, even today. Some of the more
significant or interesting aspects of the 1904 World's Fair are presented here.
David Rowland Francis
David R. Francis was the driving force behind the St. Louis World's Fair. He led the effort to
award the Fair to St. Louis
and secure financing, directed its construction and the gathering of the
exhibits, and also served as the Fair's president. He had previously been the
Mayor of St. Louis, Governor of Missouri, and
U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and would later serve as U.S. Ambassador to Russia. The
construction of the Fair and gathering of the exhibits and people was a
monumental effort that spanned many years.
Festival Hall and
"The Main Picture"
Festival Hall was the centerpiece of the Fair, standing atop Art
Hill in front of the Palace
of Art. Two hundred feet
high, its gold leaf dome was larger than the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in
Rome. It housed the
largest pipe organ in the world and could seat 3,500 people in its huge
auditorium for concerts.
Festival Hall and The
The Cascades, a magnificent composition of waterfalls, statues,
and fountains, flowed from in front of Festival Hall down several waterfalls to
Basin. This comprised the Fair's
"Main Picture", above. The
Basin has been recently
renovated with fountains, railings, and stairways.
Palace of Transportation
The major exhibit buildings (11 were
called Palaces) ranged from 9 to 20 acres in size--2 to 5 times larger than the
typical Famous-Barr department store! On display were the world's greatest art
treasures, the latest scientific innovations in electricity and transportation,
and also the most recent advancements in education and manufacturing.
The enormous buildings were constructed over
a frame of wood and averaged 50-60 feet high to the main roofline, and 9 to 20
acres in size. The ornate building exteriors and
numerous major sculptures were made of staff,
a mixture of plaster and hemp. The glistening white buildings and sculptures
earned the Fair its nickname "The Ivory City". The Palaces were
designed in Neo-Classical and Roman Revival styles, and also included
influences from Grecian, Roman, German, Eqyptian, Greek, and Assyrian elements.
Palace of Art,
now the St. Louis Art Museum
Palace of Art
was constructed from limestone and brick as the Fair's permanent exhibit
building. Additional temporary fireproof 'annexes' were built nearby to augment
the display space for the world's valuable works of art. Inside were displayed
thousands of valuable paintings and sculptures. The Fair's only permanent
building is now the St. Louis
Art Museum. Cass Gilbert,
a major New York architect, planned the Fair’s
overall layout and designed both Festival Hall and the
The Administration Building,
now Washington University's Brookings Hall
The nearby land and buildings of the
recently constructed Washington
leased by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company for $650,000 and served as
administrative and special exhibition space. Queen Victoria's
Jubilee Gifts and the Vatican treasures were displayed in these buildings,
which are still part of Washington
"The Apotheosis of
St. Louis" at the
1904 World's Fair
More than 100 sculptors produced over
1,000 major sculptures for the Fair buildings and grounds. They included the
equestrian Statue of St. Louis IX titled "The Apotheosis of St.
Louis". This beautiful monument was recast in bronze after the Fair
and given to the City of St. Louis
by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company. It was placed in front of the Art Museum,
overlooking Art Hill and the Grand
Basin. For decades this
statue was used as the symbol of St.
Louis, until the Gateway Arch was built in the 1960s.
The 1904 Olympics at the
1904 World's Fair
The 1904 Olympic Games were held in
St. Louis during the
Fair. They were the third Olympics of the modern era, and the first Olympics
held in the United States.
Track and field events were held at
and track. The track and concrete grandstand (which still stands) were later
named Francis Field after the Fair's President, David R. Francis.
the 1904 World's Fair
was the Fair's popular entertainment area. Over 50 attractions included
amusement rides, wild animal displays, battle museums, a "Temple of
Mirth", and fire fighting
exhibitions. Fanciful trips through "The Hereafter" and "Creation"
could be taken by the adventurous. A visitor could travel on simulated ship,
submarine, airship, or train trips to the North Pole, Russia, or Paris.
Realistic recreations included famous Naval Battles where 20-foot long 'manned'
ships fired miniature cannons, and the Galveston Flood which killed over 6,000
people in 1901. A 'Piker' could visit the Tyrolean Alps village and eat at a
German restaurant, or tour other 'villages' of France,
Egypt, Ireland, and Japan, complete with native people,
exhibits, and restaurants featuring native foods. But all Fair visitors wanted
to take a ride on the great Observation Wheel.
The Observation or
Ferris Wheel, and its Destruction
The great 264' Observation, or
Ferris Wheel was originally built for the 1893 Chicago World's
Fair, and was transported to St. Louis
for the 1904 World's Fair. Each of its 36 wooden cars held 60 people for a
total capacity of 2160 riders. Grand dinners and even weddings took place in
the spacious cars. The 'Observation Wheel' was destroyed for scrap after the
Fair in May 1906, when attempts to sell or relocate the gigantic wheel failed. No one knows
for sure if the Ferris Wheel's 70-ton, 45-foot axle was taken away or is
still buried somewhere near the wheel's location, along Skinker Avenue.
Washington State Building
Of the 45 U.S. states in 1904, thirty-six states and
constructed buildings to advertise their state's qualities, exhibit
products or artifacts, or serve as state hospitality locations Fair visitors.
Indian Territory (which became part of Oklahoma
in 1907) also constructed a building, and
Rico, Alaska, and
most of the other states sent exhibits to various parts of the Fair. Only
Delaware, South Carolina,
were not represented at the Fair. As the host state, Missouri constructed the largest state
building, which featured heating, cooling, and a gilded dome. The Missouri
Building burned on November 19, 1904, 11
days before the Fair closed.
Many state buildings were replicas of historic buildings, including
replica of Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello
model of Andrew Jackson's Hermitage. Others were reflective of the state's
culture, or featured a special aspect of that state, including
Texas' star-shaped building and Washington's 6-story tall 'wigwam', built to
highlight native woods. Several smaller state buildings were dismantled, transported
to other locations, and reconstructed, to serve either as homes or community
The "Bridge of Spain"
and the Walled City of Manila
of the Philippine Exhibit
The Philippine Exhibit was the
largest Fair exhibit, occupying 47 acres with 100 buildings. It displayed over
1,100 natives from several Philippine tribes, including Tagalogs, Igorottes,
Visayans, Muslims, Tinguianes, Pampangans, Kalingas, Mangyans, Negritos, and
Bagobos. Exhibits featured recreations of the Walled City of Manila, the Bridge of
Spain, and several native villages that
housed the Filipino natives. The exhibit’s purpose was to acquaint the Fair's
visitors with America’s new
commonwealth, as the Philippines
were acquired by the U.S.
after the 1898 Spanish-American War. The Igorotte tribe gained much publicity
and notoriety from their cultural habit of eating dog meat.
The Belgium building, with China's
pavilions in the foreground
and the Brazilian building in the left background
About 25 foreign buildings were constructed, and 53 foreign nations
participated in the Fair, exhibiting cultures, wares, and artifacts from
abroad. European countries and Japan
were particularly well represented at the Fair. As in the state buildings, some
were built as replicas of native buildings, such as Germany's
Charlottenberg Castle, Great Britain's Orangery at Kensington
Grand Trianon of Versailles, and China's summer residence of Prince
Pu Lun, who visited the Fair.
The Flight Cage, or Bird
All branches of the United States Government
participated, with most exhibits concentrated in the U.S. Government building.
The gigantic 228-foot long Flight Cage was built by
the Smithsonian Institution to house the U. S. Bird Exhibit. Fifty feet high
and 84 feet wide, it was split lengthwise into two sections by a wire mesh
wall. Visitors could walk through the "Flight Cage" in a 'tunnel' of
wire mesh to view the birds. The City of St.
Louis purchased what is now called the "Bird
Cage" after the Fair, and this display helped provide the impetus to
establish a St. Louis Zoo.
The Floral Clock
The great Floral Clock, 112 feet in
diameter, was a popular exhibit on a hillside near the
Palace of Agriculture.
The thousands of flowering plants on the clock’s face were 'timed' to bloom
throughout the passing of the day's hours. The tip of the 74-foot long minute
hand moved 6 feet every minute. The 1904 World's Fair Society owns the clock's
master works, which is presently on display at the History
Museum in Forest Park.
Balloonist Roy Knabenshue accomplished the first
successful lighter-than-air controlled flight at the Fair. He flew T. S.
Baldwin's dirigible airship "The California Arrow" for over 37
minutes to a height of 2,000 feet. A prize of $100,000 was offered to anyone
who could navigate an airship over an L-shaped course of over 10 miles within
an hour--but the prize was not awarded.
The Liberty Bell traveled west of the
Mississippi River for first time, and was on display in the
building from June 8 to November 16. Other impressive Fair exhibits included
Missouri's 65-foot, multi-story Corn
Palace in the Palace
of Agriculture, and
56-foot iron statue of Vulcan in the
of Mines and Metallurgy.
Vulcan is still is on display on a mountaintop near
The Ice Cream Cone is often heralded as being invented at the Fair (and probably was). The
story is told that an ice cream vendor ran out of dishes, and used thin waffles
from a neighboring booth rolled into cones to hold his ice cream. However, several
variations of this story exist, as told by different claimants of being the
'inventor' of the ice cream cone. However, stories and legends about
the 'invention' of iced tea, the hot dog, Dr. Pepper, and cotton
candy at the 1904 Fair are false
. While these foods were clearly 'popularized' at the Fair, there is
clear evidence of these food’s earlier 'invention', sales, and consumption.
See Myths and Legends - Food for more details.
The World's Fair
Pavilion and The Jefferson Memorial
The remarkable 1904 World's Fair was the
only profitable Fair of the Victorian era. The proceeds were used after the
Fair to build two major structures
in Forest Park:
the World's Fair Pavilion and the Jefferson Memorial History Museum,
which was the first memorial to honor the nation's third President.
The 1904 St. Louis
World's Fair was the grandest gathering of cultures, knowledge, and exhibits
the world had ever seen at the start of the 20th century, and put the City of
St. Louis on display to
the world. The Fair displayed the history and pride of the young United States,
and also helped to lay the foundation for future advances in the sciences.
Today, the Fair is still held close to the hearts of most St. Louisans as they
fondly remember "The Greatest Fair Ever"!