he 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward boasts seven exciting, artifact-rich sections.


The opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition 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. The story behind the construction of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition is one of human perseverance—a testimony to the energy, investment, and commitment of the citizens of St. Louis. 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 over 1,200 acres of thickets and swamps in Forest Park and Clayton into a grand landscape filled with classically inspired buildings, waterways, gardens, anavenues. 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.

To experience more related to Constructing the Fair, visit the Artifacts Section.


More 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.

To experience more related to Nations on Display, visit the Artifacts Section.


People 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." They 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 the Anthropology Department’s "living displays" reaffirmed the basic belief in the superiority of industrial civilization, which lay at the core of the Exposition’s appeal.

To experience more related to People at the Fair, visit the Artifacts Section.



As Louisiana Purchase Exposition company 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.

To experience more related to Art at the Fair, visit the Artifacts Section.


The landscape of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition was a carefully controlled environment— designed by architects, built by laborers, represented by artists and photographers, reproduced in souvenirs, and promoted in the media. In nearly every printed account there appeared a fascination with how the fairgrounds should be viewed. When describing their experiences, authors inevitably settled on such terms as glance, gaze, picture, and framing the view. The countless number of postcards, photographs, and artworks reinforced that way of thinking. Views of the space and architecture of Forest Park were presented as a magnificent picture. How people viewed the fairgrounds required visual instruction that served not only as a map of what to “see” at the World’s Fair, but also as a souvenir—a physical memory—of America’s great democratic experiment.

To experience more related to Viewing the Fair, visit the Artifacts Section.



Just as contemporary vacationers are bombarded with trinkets and t-shirts to commemorate their trip to a theme park or a resort, the opportunity to shop at the World’s Fair dominated the visitor experience in 1904. More than 500 concession stands dotted the fairgrounds where visitors could examine and then purchase products made as new labor-saving devices for their home or business. Exhibits in nearly every palace and building also made it clear that the souvenir business was an industry unto itself. Companies vied for the “Official Souvenir” contracts and fought for the best positions at the Fair for selling their wares. As part of a growing commercial center, St. Louis companies took advantage of this opportunity. Shoe manufacturers, automotive companies, beverage distributors, and many other local businesses used the Fair to launch new products and embrace the millions of potential customers.

To experience more related to Shopping at the Fair, visit the Artifacts Section.



The 1904 World’s Fair served as host to the 1904 Olympic Games—the first Olympics to be held in the United States since the ancient event’s 1896 revival. The official games took place August 29 through September 3, 1904, predominantly at Francis Field, 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. More than simply competitive events, the 1904 Olympics served as a demonstration of the health benefits of physical exertion both for individuals and nations.

To experience more related to The 1904 Olympics, visit the Artifacts Section.