order to help prepare for you class trip to The 1904 World's
Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward, the Missouri Historical
Society is offering the following pre-visit
activities and overview, thematic description
of the exhibit, and guidelines for visiting
For more information on student programs at the Missouri History
Museum, please visit the For
Educators Section of our the MHS Web site.
To reserve your Student Group, please call (314) 361-9017
or email email@example.com.
for Elementary School Students
Have students explore the following ideas:
- Where is Forest Park? How far is it from your school?
- If you have visited the park, how would you describe it?
- Have you been to a Fair? If so, what are your experiences?
- What comes to mind when you think about a “World’s Fair”
as opposed to any other type of fair?
- If you were planning a trip to a big fair, how might you plan your visit?
What would you need to think about?
- What sorts of artifacts might be needed to create an exhibit on the 1904 World’s
- Knowing that the World’s Fair was one hundred years
ago, what do you think fairgoers might have seen, enjoyed,
- Ask parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles if they
know any stories about the 1904 World’s Fair. Write
them down; discuss your findings.
Information Overview for Students:
- The exhibition celebrates the centennial of the Louisiana
Purchase Exposition or, as it is better known, the 1904
World’s Fair, opened on April 30, 1904.
- When it opened, the 1904 World's Fair was the largest
World’s Fair ever held – 50 countries sent exhibits.
- Admission to the Fair was 50 cents for adults and 5 cents
- St. Louis also hosted the Olympics that summer.
- More than 250 artifacts are included in The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking
Back at Looking Forward – objects were gathered
from private collections as well as the Missouri Historical
- The exhibit helps bring focus to the idea of envisioning
the future – seeing the world as a better place, in
part because of technological advances.
- Thematic ideas such as imperialism, racism, urban design,
and consumerism can be explored using the exhibition.
- The tour is organized by the major areas of the exhibit
– Constructing the Fair, Nations on Display, People
at the Fair, The Olympics, Viewing the Fair, Artists, Shopping
at theFair, and the Pike.
- Pillar’s of Knowledge in each
section provide hands-on activities for visitors.
Exhibition Text and
"Open ye gates. Swing wide, ye portals..."
On April 30, 1904, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition—better
known as the 1904 World’s Fair—opened. The momentous
occasion followed several years of preparation that included
the development of surrounding neighborhoods, improvements
to the city’s water supply, and the clearing of parkland.
The great enterprise that unfolded in St. Louis in 1904 brought
together the achievements of science, art, and industry that
helped define the advent of the twentieth century. Planners
of the Fair wanted the world to see St. Louis as a city at
the forefront of technological and educational advances, its
citizens looking ahead to a new century that promised a better
The exhibit is broken down into seven thematic areas:
Please visit the Artifacts
Section for an more in-depth view of each of these thematic
- Constructing the Fair
- Nations on Display
- People at the Fair
- The 1904 Olympics
- Viewing the Fair
- Art at the Fair
- Shopping at the Fair
story behind the construction of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition
is one of human perseverance—a testimony to the energy,
investment, and commitment of St. Louis’s citizens.
The Fair was a highly orchestrated event, with its designers
joining ranks with civic planners and an army of more than
10,000 laborers to transform 1,240 acres of thickets and swamps
in Forest Park and Clayton into a grand landscape filled with
classically inspired buildings, waterways, gardens, and avenues.
While the 1904 World’s Fair celebrated the one-hundredth
anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, the renovated parkland
told a story of American progress since 1804. As the Fair’s
chief architect, Isaac Taylor, proclaimed, the designers and
laborers had built “the grandest and most magnificent
exposition in the way of buildings, architectural effects
and landscape gardening the world has ever seen.”
The process of organizing, planning, constructing, and running
the Louisiana Purchase Exposition changed St. Louis. The transformation
of Forest Park from a wilderness of trees and thickets into
a showcase of the latest thinking in urban design required
the vision of three powerful men: David R. Francis, Isaac
Taylor, and George Kessler. Their leadership in the realms
of politics, city planning, and landscape architecture proved
to the international community that a city such as St. Louis
could be an inspiring model of beauty, efficiency, and commercial
Amid the fury of design, planning, organization, and construction,
David Francis wrote, “the World’s Fair site was
perhaps the busiest spot on the continent.” The Louisiana
Purchase Exposition Company employed an army of 10,000 workers
who used cranes, tractors, horse teams, survey kits, blasting
equipment, and freight trains to reshape the land. The real
heroes of this effort, however, were the laborers who worked
in all kinds of weather to sculpt the land, lay sewer pipes,
reroute the River Des Peres, and construct the magnificent
buildings. The laborers transformed Forest Park from a rough
wilderness into the largest World’s Fair in history.
In the process, they forged new and lasting trade agreements
and earned respect for the diverse building trades.
Notable Engineering Feats
The Department of Works straightened the meandering River
Des Peres and built a new covered wooden channel under the
main avenue of the Exposition to keep polluted water originating
north of Lindell Avenue away from the World’s Fair site.
Also constructed were new sewer lines under the park, which
were connected to St. Louis’s expanding sewer system.
The city required that certain portions of the work needed
to be built larger than necessary in order to become part
of the city’s infrastructure, and to anticipate future
Sculpting the Land: George Kessler
George Kessler, Director of Kansas City Park, served as the
chief landscape architect for the Exposition. He worked in
concert with his on-site supervisor, D. W. C. Perry, to direct
teams of surveyors who produced topographical maps, coding
the land with numbered wooden stakes placed at 50-foot intervals.
From these codes, Kessler directed the immediate clearance
of 200 acres of selected trees and underbrush, mostly elms
and sycamores, whose stumps had to be blasted out with dynamite.
His staff marked hundreds more trees for transplantation and
use on the Fair site and constructed extensive greenhouses
and horticultural beds on the Tesson Tract to supply Kessler’s
All of the Exposition main palaces were finished and ornamented
by a special 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 pliable bond. Poured into molds to mass-produce
sculptural effects, when hardened the staff material could
be sawed, hammered, cut, and even whittled like wood to produce
unique artistic designs for the building facades.
THEME: NATIONS ON DISPLAY
foreign nations participated in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition
than in any preceding World’s Fair. Whether from Western
Europe or the Far East, delegations from each country designed
their exhibits to stress technological and cultural advances,
as well as pride in their national history. Examples of handcrafted
and manufactured goods, many ready for export, were also featured,
reinforcing the prospect of a new global marketplace. During
the summer of 1904, St. Louis became the heart of a consumer
world market, the forefront of technological and educational
advancement, and a museum for international history.
THEME: PEOPLE AT THE FAIR
came to the World’s Fair for a variety of reasons: to
visit and marvel, to work, or to be displayed. The variety
of groups created a vast global village, where people’s
appearances often defined their place within a presumed hierarchy
of civilization. American Indians, Filipinos, and other “primitives”
from the Far East and South America were invited to participate
as “living displays,” and provided fairgoers with
a rare, firsthand encounter with peoples from far-off lands.
Although understood today as an expression of the Fair organizers’
blatant racism, at the time Anthropology Departments “living
displays” reaffirmed the basic belief in the superiority
of industrial civilization, which lay at the core of the Exposition’s
The Gerhard Sisters
and Mamie Gerhard operated a successful portrait studio on
Olive Street in St. Louis. The first women to have a studio
in St. Louis, the Gerhard Sisters chose to photograph individuals
and families living and performing both on the Pike and in
the Anthropology Department exhibits. Taken exclusively in
their studio using natural light to accentuate the facial
characteristics of each subject, these captivating images
stand as a unique and sensitive document of people from far-off
lands who made St. Louis their home during the Exposition.
The studio environment additionally helped to bring a level
of humanness to the subjects that were often, in the context
of the Fair displays, seen only as exotic or even dangerous.
Dressed for the Fair
Images from the 1904 World’s Fair show people in a variety
of fashionable clothing styles. Fashion was a mark of status,
and at the time of the Fair people believed in dressing appropriately
for every occasion, which could mean changing clothes several
times in a day. Much like today, there were numerous sources
that helped to dictate fashion. Companies advertised in local
newspapers and magazines their products appropriate for the
THEME: THE 1904 OLYMPICS
1904 Olympic Games were the first Olympics to be held in the
United States. The official games took place August 29 through
September 3, 1904, predominantly at the stadium on the campus
of Washington University. Throughout the course of the World’s
Fair numerous other athletic events and contests occurred
under the guise of the Olympics in order to boost the public’s
interest and participation.
THEME: VIEWING THE FAIR
fairground was a carefully controlled environment—designed
by architects, built by workman, represented by artists and
photographers, printed on souvenirs, and promoted in the media.
In nearly every printed account of the fair, there appeared
a fascination with perception—looking and seeing.
In describing their experiences on the fairground, authors
inevitably settled on such terms as “glance” and
“gaze,” “picture” and “framing
the view.” The countless number of souvenirs, postcards,
photographs, and artworks reinforced that way of thinking;
views of the space and architecture of Forest Park were presented
as though a magnificent picture.
THEME: ART AT THE FAIR
As Exposition president David R. Francis noted in his history
of the 1904 World’s Fair, “At no previous exposition
did art receive so much recognition and attention.”
Painters, sculptors, and applied artists from twenty-seven
nations filled the Palace of Fine Arts with objects meant
to inspire and instruct. Other state buildings and foreign
exhibits across the fairgrounds also displayed art to emphasize
the value of creative expression in daily life. Amidst these
wide-ranging venues for art, St. Louis artists made valuable
contributions, reinforcing the city’s aspiration to
be a national center for the arts.
THEME: SHOPPING AT THE FAIR
opportunity to shop at the World’s Fair dominated nearly
every experience that fair visitors could have. The more than
500 concession stands that spread throughout the fairgrounds
and in nearly every palace and building made it clear to fairgoers
that the souvenir business was an industry unto itself. It
is hard to imagine how many different types of souvenirs existed
then and still exist today as the main vehicle for remembering
Please review the following guidelines with your students
before their visit:
- Please touch only the objects you are invited to touch.
- Speak quietly and walk slowly in order to allow other
visitors to enjoy the Musuem too.
- Stay with your guide.
- Food and drink (including gum) are not allowed in the
exhibit galleries. Please deposit all items in the containers