For 184 days, The Louisiana Purchase Exposition opened the eyes of the world to the city of St. Louis. At the time, the United States' fourth largest city (superceded by New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia); it had grown from a humble fur-trading outpost in the Louisiana Territory to the heart of commerce along the nation’s busiest river. The beautiful and ornate Victorian era had passed it's apex, and was beginning to be toppled by the `progress' of the Progressive Era. It was a time of high optimism and of invention. Sadly, a public trend assumed that this science and technology renaissance could solve all problems, even social issues.
The 1904 World’s Fair, main theme was innovations and
inventions; they presented these scientific marvels in artistic,
fun and especially educational ways. It showcased the growth
and potential of a (still mainly), rural United States, optimistically
announcing to the the fairgoers that modern life was here to stay.
Thus the Fair was a powerful testament to the progress of the
Yet, while the US and the world was on the brink of great discoveries
and innovations that would modernize everyday life, electricity was
still a novelty and travel was mainly still the reliable (but slow), horse
and carriage. Though airplanes and movies were realized, they were
still in their infancy; there were no radios or television.
The Star-Spangled Banner was not yet the national anthem. Many
women would not gain the right to vote for another 16 years.
Though fairs have been around for hundreds of of years, the
“Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations” in London, 1851
was the first huge-scaled organized exposition that provided a highly visible platform for nations to show off their wares, handicrafts and technology.
After much lobbying and an act of Congress, St. Louis won the right to hold an exposition in 1903. The race for approval was nip and tuck with the vote taken just 20 minutes before the close of Congress in March 1901. The national commission met at the Southern Hotel, in St. Louis to officially incorporate the World's Fair company- now named- "Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company," with a capital stock of 6,000,000 dollars. David R. Francis was elected the company’s president. A celebration banquet was given by the Business Men's League of St. Louis at the Planters' Hotel to the national commission and members of Congress who were foremost in passing the bill and giving the Fair a home in St. Louis. But there was more to be done. A fair site had to be found, hotels had to be built, roads completed and St. Louis’ noted drinking water problem had to be cleaned up, before construction could be started. In addition, the 1903 St. Louis Fair would need money, and to help ease the Fair's financial burden, the city of St. Louis and the federal government each provided 5 million dollars. Another 5 million was raised through the sale of stock in the Exposition Company. With individual states, nations and private exhibitors and concessionaires funding their own participation, the total cost of the Fair was 50 million dollars.
In order to increase foreign participation, Fair representatives traveled to Asia, South and Central America, and North Africa with an invitation to bring people and exhibits to St. Louis.
Though a part of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company
committee wanted the Fair to be on the magnificent Mississippi River
in Carondelet, they conceded to the idea of more hilly Forest Park,
in the southern end of St. Louis. The park was at a central point
between the north and south of town, away from unsightly factories
and slums, but easily accessible by public transportation.
There, they could landscape sweeping views of the surroundings as
well as views of the river. In addition, the park already had streets
in place as well as good water pressure. Furthermore, stately private
streets such as Westmoreland Place and Portland Place were located
near the park. Because parts of Forest Park would have to be cut down,
the Exposition Company was hit with a lawsuit by environmentalists.
The 'Wilderness,' as the northwestern corner of the park was called
because of its untouched dense woodlands, was a difficult issue to win,
so the committee compromised, they would only utilize 657 acres of the park.
So as not to reduce the scale of their vision, they obtained land to the west, including leasing (for 650,000 dollars), the new but not yet occupied property that would make up Washington University campus. Several private families leased the Fair land south of Washington University.
On Dec. 20, 1901, Francis held a groundbreaking ceremony on a frozen site just southwest of the Missouri History Museum. They burned wood to thaw the ground, to pound in the oak spike, signifying the beginning of construction. The statue of St. Louis would be placed there.
A commission of architects was created to tackle the design stage of the fairgrounds. Formed on June 27, 1901, they consisted of independent architects, landscape architects, the heads of six architectural firms and three advisors; this group was given the enormous task of the entire design and layout of the Fair. Julius Pitzman, a respected St. Louis city planner, noted the problem of the Des Peres river. Not only did the polluted waterway frequently flood, but its winding route left no space for large palaces to be constructed. Designer of Works- Isaac Taylor suggested Pitzman and advisor George E. Kessler that the river should be shortened by half, straightened and placed underground. The Rich Construction Company transformed the river into a three chambered sluiceway (to vary the flow of the water) during the frozen winter in 65 days.
Work began on the `Chain of Rocks' water purification basins to clean up St. Louis' drinking water and provide clear, flowing water for the cascades and fountains of the Fair.
Contracts to complete four of the palaces were awarded prior to `repairing' the river. The lowest contractor bid included having to subscribe to Louisiana Purchase Exposition stock. At a price tag of 604,000 dollars, the first palace to be contracted (and constructed), was the Palace of Varied Industries. Huge pilings were driven into the unstable ground to support the build's wooden foundations and supports as well as the ornate casted staff (strengthened plaster). Wood, (which was cheaper than steel), allowed workers to attach the mainly ivory-covered staff, much easier. Over one million feet of scaffolding was used in its construction. Workers earned between 1.50 and 5 dollars a day.
It seemed that the Fair planners were obsessed as to `top’ the
Chicago Exposition in 1893.
Work on the largest construction project in St. Louis history
continued at a furious rate. Thirty miles of new streets were
created, while seventy miles of roads were resurfaced. Trees
were axed or replanted. Thousands of tree stumps were
removed, countless cubic feet of soil had to be graded, and
thousands of feet of sewers. Palaces, nations hotels, restaurants,
and state buildings all had to be constructed, including the Pike,
the Great Basin, Cascades and all the landscaping, artworks
and statues and various adornments. All of these tasks including
redesigning a river were done by horse drawn, earth-moving
equipment, simple sweat, muscle and determination. Up to
100,000 visitors visited the site on each Sunday to gawk at
the transformation of Forest Park into an ornate wonder.
On occasion, a few steamed-powered pieces of equipment were utilized.
But as time sped by with slow progress, it became evident that the 1903 opening was unrealistic. Preparations for a Fair of this nature were more time-consuming than first thought and without additional commitments from foreign and national exhibitors to entice visitors and businesses, the project would become an economic disaster. More time was needed to finish the physical structure of the Fair and the hotels to accommodate fairgoers and visitors to St. Louis. With Francis, Taylor and the city of St. Louis asking for more time, Congress delayed the Fair's opening until 1904.
As a side note, because St. Louis won the rights for the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, they began a vicious battle to host the 1903 Olympic games with the city of Chicago, who wowed everyone with their ornately grand 1893 Columbian Exposition. St. Louis did not want their attention taken away from their city if Chicago held the first Olympic World Games in the United States. To make matters worse, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Chicago committee a letter of support in August 1902. But with the one one year reprieve, and with Francis lobbying for a St. Louis World Games, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin- founder of the International Olympic Committee, (who desired the World Games in Chicago), was fearful of being upstaged by Francis' World's Fair. He conceded that St. Louis' 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition would also present the Olympic Games.
By the end of 1903, most of the complex work was completed with the exception of the Cascades. The lagoons were still dry, but would be filled by April. Francis decreed on March 18, 1904 that no additional building would be planned after April first.
Ten days before opening day, St. Louis was hit by a
snow storm, then a quick thaw. One Fair worker wrote
home that people “were sinking to their ankles in the mud.”
But mother nature could not spoil the Fair's opening day.
On April 30, 1904, At nine o'clock the officials of the
Exposition had met in the Administration Building
whence they marched to the Plaza of St. Louis, where the
formal opening exercises were to be conducted. These
officials were met in the plaza by the representatives
from foreign governments. The President of the Exposition,
David R. Francis, called the assemblage to order and
the Rev. Francis M. Gunsaulus, of Chicago, offered an
opening prayer. The closing address, which was delivered
by Secretary of War- William Howard Taft,
(President of the US 1909-1913). The US Navy also
showcased its presence on opening day with the gunboat-
`Nashville' and the torpedo boat- `Lawerence' in St. Louis
187,793 people attended and marveled at the
Fair's opening day's ceremonies and to the greatest
spectacle that the world had ever witnessed. The
exhibits at the Fair were meant to show the processes
of art, education and manufacturing, not merely the results.
Though President Theodore Roosevelt did not attend the
opening day ceremonies (he did not want to use the
Exposition for political gains), he threw an electrical
switch in Washington, D. C. to official jumpstart the festivities.
In St. Louis, the Cascades flowed, John Phillip Sousa's
band (of 50-60 musicians), played with a chorus of 400 and all were
welcome to view the wonders of the Fair.
The Fair was a financial success, and did exactly what The Louisiana
Exposition Company envisioned, to showcase the vast potential of the
an emerging power- the United States. And though the Fair did had its
critics (in particular stereotyping particular cultures), it also promoted
a vast wave of new technology, resources of America, artistic grandeur
and educated millions about other nations and people.
To paraphrase Harper's Magazine, the publication stated `that the
St. Louis Fair leaves no intelligent visitor untouched. It fills him
full of pictures and knowledge for years afterward. It gives him a
new standard, new means of comparison, new insight into the
conditions of life in the world he is living in."
"Our 'Domestic Exhibitors' could have no higher testimonial than that furnished by the magnificent buildings and grounds of this Exposition. We have here combined in brilliant variety the charms and beauties of garden, forest, lake and stream, embellished by these splendid structures, forming an harmonious whole certainly not equaled by any former Exposition. All credit is due the President and Directors, whose intelligence and untiring labors have conquered all obstacles and
brought this World's Fair to a most auspicious and successful opening. One cannot view the result of their labors without being deeply impressed with the magnitude of their undertaking, and when we consider the exhibits which have been assembled within these grounds, we are led irresistibly to an appreciation of the multitude of forces which contributed to this great work, and particularly to the co-operation which must have existed to produce the result before us.
"I have the honor on this occasion to speak for our 'Domestic Exhibitors.' They are well represented by their works before you, and by these works you can know them.
"These exhibits represent in concrete form the artistic and industrial development of this country, and in viewing them one cannot but be impressed with the great improvement in the conditions affecting our material and physical welfare and with the corresponding advancement in our intellectual and esthetic life.
"Let us consider for a moment the processes by which this result has been reached. We have here collected the products of our artistic, scientific and industrial life. The raw materials of the farm, the vineyard, the mine and the forest have been transformed by the skilled artisan, the artist and the architect into the finished products before
you. By the co-operation of all these resources, of all these activities, of all these workers, this result has been accomplished. From the felling of the trees in the forest, the tilling of the soil and the mining of the ore, through all the steps and processes required to produce from the raw material the complicated machine or the costly
fabric, there must have been co-operation, and all incongruous elements and resistant forces must have been eliminated or overcome.
"The chief factor, therefore, which has contributed to these results is the co-operation of all our people. The first law of our civilization is the co-operation of all individuals to improve the conditions of life. By division of labor each individual is assigned to or takes his special part in our social organization. This specialization of labor has become
most minute. Not only is this true in scientific and philosophic research, in professional and business life, but in the simplest and earliest occupations of men, such as the tilling of the soil, the specialist is found bringing to the aid of his industry expert and scientific knowledge.
"... In the division of labor and the resultant specialization of human activity we have necessarily different classes of workers, some of whom have adopted the co-operative idea by forming organizations by which they seek to better their conditions. No doubt each class of workers has its particular interests which may be legitimately improved by
co-operation among its members, and thus far the labor organization has a lawful purpose, but while standing for its rights it cannot legitimately deny to any other class its rights, nor should it go to the extent of infringing the personal and inalienable rights of its members as individuals. On the contrary, it must accord to its own members and
to others the same measure of justice that it demands for itself as an organization.
"In working out this problem there has been much conflict. Indeed, according to human experience, such conflict could not entirely be avoided, but in the end each class must recognize that it cannot exist
independently of others; it cannot strike down or defeat the rights or interests of others without injuring itself. Should capital demand more than its due, by that demand it limits its opportunities, and, correspondingly, the laborer who demands more than his due thereby takes away from himself the opportunity to labor. No one can escape this law
of co-operation. Self-interest demands that we must observe its just limitations. We must be ready to do our part and accord to all others the fair opportunity of doing their part. We must co-operate with and help our colaborer. We should approach the solution of each question which may arise with a reasonable and, better still, a friendly spirit.
He who obstructs the reasonable adjustment of these questions, who fosters strife by appealing to class prejudice, may justly be regarded by all as an enemy to the best public interests....
"In conclusion, permit me to advert to the Louisiana Purchase, which we are now celebrating, and call attention to the importance of that event in securing to our people the fullest benefit of the co-operative idea.
Manifestly, if our Government were restricted to the original territory of the United States, as defined by the Treaty of 1783, we must have encountered in many ways the opposition of governments, some of them
European, which would have occupied the territory beyond our original south and west boundaries. Our trade and commerce moving from or to our original territory would, necessarily, have been largely restricted by
hostile foreign powers. The Louisiana Purchase not only more than doubled our territory by adding a country rich in material resources, but gave us control of the Mississippi river, and made possible the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, the Mexican cessions and the annexation of Texas. ...
"Though much has been done towards the development of this imperial domain, yet we may truly say that we have only seen the beginning of that development. The possibilities for the future are boundless. With a
land of unparalleled resources, occupied by a people combining the best elements of our modern civilization and governed by laws evolved from the highest and best progress of the human race, no eye can foresee the goal to which a co-operation of all these forces must lead."
---- Hon. Edward H. Harriman speaking about the domestic exhibits on Opening Day---
The Mexican Commissioner, A. R. Nuncio, spoke in behalf of the foreign exhibitors.
184 days later, David R. Francis addressed the thousands of people assembled to close down the Fair forever. The date was December 1, 1904; his stance on education unwavering, he hoped that the world would "learn the lesson here taught and gather from it inspiration for still greater accomplishments." It did for a short period of time; yet in
less than ten years, over 100 countries would be thrust into World War I.
Ironically, a Chicago firm- the Chicago Wrecking Co. was the low bidder- 386,000 dollars for dismantling the Fair. All of the wood and staff-constructed buildings including staff statues and sculptures were demolished and buried in three landfills.
The curious were charged a 25-cent admission fee to watch the demolition of the Fair.
It took a hundred pounds of dynamite to bring down George Ferris' giant observation wheel. Nine years later, Forest Park resembled what it looked like before the great Fair's construction.