The Louisiana Purchase Exposition known today as the St. Louis World’s Fair opened today in 1904. Now WE know em


St. Louis, Missouri had held an annual Exposition for agriculture, trade, and scientific exhibits since the 1880’s.

St. Louis was then selected in 1901 to host a World’s Fair to celebrate the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.

The site selected for the Exposition encompassed some 1,200 acres with German American planner and landscape architect George Kessler selected to design the grounds.

French American architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray was selected as Chief of Design for the major buildings within the project.

Over the next three years, Masqueray designed all but one of the grand neo-classical exhibition palaces as temporary structures 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.


The opening, however, was pushed back from 1903 to 1904 supposedly to allow for more participation from other states and foreign countries.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition finally opened on April 30, 1904 as the world’s largest fair to date.

Map of the St. Louis World's Fair

Map of the St. Louis World’s Fair

There were over 1,500 buildings, connected by some 75 miles 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.


Palace of Agriculture

Chief of Design Emmanuel Louis 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 the new Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul for the city.

East Lagoon, statue of Saint Louis, Palaces of Education and Manufacture, and wireless telegraph tower.

East Lagoon, statue of Saint Louis, Palaces of Education and Manufacture, and wireless telegraph tower.

Exhibits were hosted 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.

A number of foods were introduced at the fair. The most popular claim is that the waffle-style ice cream cone was first sold during the fair when a vendor ran out of cups and another vendor made waffle cones to hold the ice cream.

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 also first introduced to a national audience at the fair.

Scott Joplin wrote the ragtime song “Cascades” in honor of the elaborate waterfalls in front of Festival Hall.

1904 Summer Olympic Games

The Fair also 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 during the Fair, the games were relocated to St. Louis. Nonetheless, the sporting events were spread out over several months, and were overshadowed by the Fair itself. With travel expenses high, many European athletes did not come, nor did the modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

The St. Louis World’s Fair closed December 1, 1904 after some 19,694,855 individuals had attended the event.

Today the Fair’s grounds encompass Forest Park and the campus of Washington University.

Now WE know em


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