April 30, 1904, Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company President
David R. Francis officially opened the Louisiana Purchase
Exposition—also known as the 1904 World’s Fair—with
the call, “Open ye gates. Swing wide, ye portals.”
A magnificent spectacle greeted the opening day crowd of 200,000—a
dazzling city stood on what had been a woodland park. Fair
organizers had erected nearly 1,500 buildings—including
several grand “palaces”—across 1,200 acres
of a newly redesigned Forest Park. That magnificent fairground
equated America’s expansion westward since the Louisiana
Purchase with the nation’s cultural and economic progress.
As one exuberant writer noted in the World’s Fair Bulletin,
the Exposition’s official journal:
of Homer’s Iliad were engaged in petty achievements
when compared with the work of the men who wrestled a vast
wilderness from savages and wild beasts and made it the seat
of twenty great commonwealths in a single century.”
For the next seven months, St. Louisans and travelers from
across the globe experienced the latest achievements in technology,
fine arts, manufacturing, science, civics, foreign policy
and education. The Fair boasted extravagant exhibits from
fifty foreign countries and forty-three of the then forty-five
states. Festival Hall, in the center of the Colonnade of States
overlooking the Grand Basin, had a seating capacity of 3,500.
Eight principal palaces surrounded Festival Hall.
course, the 1904 World’s Fair offered more than lofty,
noble ideas; fair-goers had ample opportunity to indulge in
popular culture and entertainment on the mile-long arcade
known as the Pike. Considered the carnival side of the Fair,
Pike visitors could enjoy fifty different amusements, including
contortionists, reenactments of the Boer War, babies in incubators,
the Dancing Girls of Madrid, Jim Key the Educated
Horse, and Hagenbeck’s Zoological Paradise and
Animal Circus—which featured an elephant water slide.
Although not on the Pike, the most spectacular concession
was the Observation Wheel; from the top of the wheel—265
feet above the Fair—riders enjoyed the best aerial view
of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
By the time the Fair closed on December 1, 1904, an estimated
20 million people had reveled in the wonders of the Louisiana
Purchase Exposition. In 1904, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition
thrust St. Louis into the global spotlight; since then, the
1904 World’s Fair has been forever ingrained in our
regional identity. It has become a powerful symbol of our
city, a barometer by which we measure subsequent civic progress,
and a source of tremendous pride.