The palaces were 12 colossal buildings that occupied 135 acres of real estate at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Built at a cost of 6,449,736 dollars, these massive edifices of striking beauty portrayed a neo-classic Roman style that symbolized the current ideology of the United States.
Fair President- David R. Francis wanted the palaces to contrast aesthetic beautiful with enormous strength. He stated, "I feel when I stand on Art Hill and view the panorama spread before me, that I have seen a masterpiece of architectural achievement. It is as if the symbolized genius of construction stood at my side and slowly unfolded her bejeweled fan, on which are embossed in ivory, silver, and gold the most exquisite creations of the art."
By prior agreement with city officials, Forest Park would be returned to its previous state once the Fair ended. As with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the huge palaces, buildings, and hundreds of statues and monuments, were constructed not to last and were created from a temporary material called "staff," a mixture of lime plaster and cement, containing glycerin and dextrose. Workers added shredded Manila hemp fiber, (the main ingredient in rope), to form a more manageable and strong plaster of Paris. Staff looked like marble and could easily be cast and sculpted (and eventually destroyed). Throughout the months of the Fair, the buildings worn down due to weather. Only one of the grand palaces- The Palace of Fine Arts (constructed mostly out of marble), would not end up as rubble.
Although their exteriors were elaborately designed and detailed with a neo-Classical theme (extremely popular in opulent Victorian society), the vast palace interiors were strictly utilitarian. They varied in style and size; from the enormous 23 acre- Palace of Agriculture to the relatively `small' 7 1/2 acre-sized- Palace of Horticulture. Incorporating 5 million square feet of exhibit space, these edifices were a showcase for billions of dollars of technology, engineering, produce, and merchandise of every description imaginable. You could gaze upon the hundreds of the latest automobiles as well as the massive Swiss-built `Mallet, (pronounced Mallay), the world's largest locomotive in the Palace of Transportation. One could peruse the impressive Bethlehem Steel exhibit in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy, while checking out the latest shoes at the Palace of Manufactures. One could also purchase everything from precious jewels and inlayed furniture to the latest farm, scientific equipment, and even Buster Brown shoes and a new-fangled treat- the ice cream cone. Souvenirs from all over the world, including many exclusively produced for the Fair could be purchased.
US Customs had a field day collecting duty/taxes on foreign goods. In fact, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company charged a rather steep commission of 25% on all goods sold, thus making the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair the only one that made a profit.
But the palaces were not just a huge shopping mall. Education was the key message at the Fair. The massive structures' exhibits focused on the education of fairgoers to new technology, techniques and innovations as well as state, national and international pride. The exhibits didn't just display simple end-products but showcased how things worked.
With so much to see, some exhibitors hooked the average fairgoer to their displays by showcasing a `gimmick,' such as California's massive elephant made entirely out of almonds in the Palace of Horticulture. Sculptures made out of butter and buildings made out of corn, were just a few of the strange exhibits.
The eight main Palaces contained 142 miles of aisle ways.
There was no fee or ticket required to enter any of the palaces, but a few individual displays were granted the rights to charge an addition charge.
While the enormous palaces were closed at dusk (6pm), fairgoers flocked to the mile-long Pike for various carnival types of entertainment, shows and attractions and dark rides. The Pike closed at 11pm.