The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair
An Overview

1904 W.F. Society

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 treasures.

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:

New  The 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 below) 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 Cascades

The Cascades, a magnificent composition of waterfalls, statues, and fountains, flowed from in front of Festival Hall down several waterfalls to the Grand Basin. This comprised the Fair's "Main Picture", above. The Grand Basin has been recently renovated with fountains, railings, and stairways.

The 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.

The Palace of Art,
now the St. Louis
Art Museum

The 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 Art Palace.

The Administration Building,
now Washington
's Brookings Hall

The nearby land and buildings of the recently constructed Washington University were 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 University.

"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 Washington University's gymnasium and track. The track and concrete grandstand (which still stands) were later named Francis Field after the Fair's President, David R. Francis.

"Creation" at the 1904 World's Fair

"The Pike" 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.

The Washington State Building

The Missouri State Building

Of the 45 U.S. states in 1904, thirty-six states and five territories 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 Puerto Rico, Alaska, and most of the other states sent exhibits to various parts of the Fair. Only Delaware, South Carolina, and Hawaii 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 Virginia's replica of Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello and Tennessee's 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 purposes.

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 Palace, France's Grand Trianon of Versailles, and China's summer residence of Prince Pu Lun, who visited the Fair.

The Flight Cage, or Bird Cage

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.

"The California Arrow"

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 Arrives

The Liberty Bell traveled west of the Mississippi River for first time, and was on display in the Pennsylvania State 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 Alabama's 56-foot iron statue of Vulcan in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy. Vulcan is still is on display on a mountaintop near Birmingham Alabama.


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"!