Monday, October 12, 2015


The official name for this event was The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, but lots of people just called it the World's Fair, probably because that was an easier name to remember.  The Fair was meant as a celebration of the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, but it got delayed a year to allow more states and countries to participate.  The opening date of the Fair was April 30, 1904, and it closed on December 1 of the same year.  During that time, 19,694,855 people attended.

The architect who designed the master plan of 1,200 acre site was George Kessler.  The Fair was located in what is now Forest Park and the campus of Washington University.  It was the largest exhibition up to that point, with over 1,500 buildings and 75 miles of roads and walkways.  Just the Palace of Agriculture by itself took up about 20 acres of land.  People said you needed a whole week just to go through the whole fair and glance at everything quickly.  Luckily, there were season passes for people who could come back several times during the Fair.

Aerial view poster detail

The fairground was meant to represent America's expansion westward since the Louisiana Purchase, along with the country's cultural and economic progress.  All the latest achievements in technology, fine arts, manufacturing, science, civics, foreign policy, and education were represented.

Postcard showing Festival Hall

Sixty-two foreign nations had exhibits in the Fair, along with the United States government and 43 of the 45 states that were in the union back then.  There was also a long arcade called "The Pike." This was considered the carnival part of the Fair, and it included amusements such as contortionists, reenactments of the Boer War, babies in incubators, the Dancing Girls of Madrid, and Jim Key the Educated Horse.

The Pike

Another popular feature of the Fair was the Observation Wheel, which was 265 feet tall and offered an excellent aerial view of the entire Exposition.

Observation Wheel

Most of the buildings created for the Exposition were meant to be temporary and to last only a year or two, at the most.  They consisted of a wood frame covered with something called "staff," which was a mix of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers.  As buildings deteriorated during the months of the Fair, they had to be patched.

Entrance to the exhibit "Creation" on the Pike, a spectacle portraying the first  6 days
in the Book of Genesis.  This exhibit was dismantled and moved to Coney Island's
Dreamland amusement park at the end of the fair.

A few structures were built to last.  For example, the Palace of Fine Arts now serves as the home of the St. Louis Art Museum.  The Fair's Administration Building became Brookings Hall, and is part of the campus of Washington University.

The St. Louis Art Museum, formerly the World's Fair Palace of Fine Arts

A building called Festival Hall, which was designed for large musical pageants, contained a pipe organ that was the largest in the world at that time.  After the Fair, it was placed in storage, and eventually bought by John Wanamaker for his Wanamaker's Store in Philadelphia.  The bronze eagle at the store also came from the Fair.  Later on, Wanamaker's became a Lord & Taylor store, and more recently, Macy's.

Wanamaker organ; photo uploaded by Megodenas, Wikipedia
There are claims that several new foods were invented and first sold at the Fair.  These include the waffle-style ice-cream cone, hamburgers, hot dogs, peanut butter, iced tea, and cotton candy.  It is more likely that these foods were already known, and that they just became more popular because of the Fair.  On the other hand, Dr. Pepper and Puffed Wheat really were first introduced at the Exposition.

The Missouri State Building burned down in November,
a couple of weeks before the Fair was scheduled to close.  It was not rebuilt.

After the Spanish-American War, the United States had acquired several new territories, including Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.  Some natives from these areas were brought to the Fair to be on display, as were other dark-skinned people such as Apaches from the Southwest U.S. and Pygmies from Africa.  By contrast, the Japanese pavilion promoted the idea of an exotic culture that was modern, even though unfamiliar to the Western world.

Over 1000 Filipinos were coerced into leaving their homes so they
could be put on display at the Fair.  The Filipinos were shown in various stages
of "cultural revolution" from primitive tribesmen to more "civilized" city-goers.

John Philip Sousa's band performed on opening day and several times during the Fair.  Other famous visitors included Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, T.S. Eliot, and Jack Daniel, whose whiskey won the Fair's Gold Medal for the best whiskey in the world.  Novelist Kate Chopin attended the Fair on a hot day in August, suffered a brain hemorrhage, and died two days later.

Postcard of the Palace of Education

Mom's grandfather, Charles Brooks, went to the Fair when he was 18 years old.  My mom grew up with some souvenirs that he brought back from St. Louis, but the only one she has now is an Indian head penny.

I think I would have liked going to the World's Fair, especially if I could have a hamburger or a hot dog there.  They probably didn't allow dogs, though.  Most fun places don't.

No comments:

Post a Comment