n 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 the museum.

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 reserv@mohistory.org.

Pre-visit Activities 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 Fair?
  • Knowing that the World’s Fair was one hundred years ago, what do you think fairgoers might have seen, enjoyed, and learned?
  • 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 for children.
  • 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 Society’s holdings.
  • 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 Major Themes

"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 life.

The exhibit is broken down into seven thematic areas:

  1. Constructing the Fair
  2. Nations on Display
  3. People at the Fair
  4. The 1904 Olympics
  5. Viewing the Fair
  6. Art at the Fair
  7. Shopping at the Fair
Please visit the Artifacts Section for an more in-depth view of each of these thematic areas.

The 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 Designers
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 possibility.

The Builders
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 uses.

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 sculptural vision.

Ready-Mixed Grandeur
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.

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.

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,” 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 appeal.

The Gerhard Sisters
Emme 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 Fair.

The 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.

The 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.

St. Louis Artists
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.

The 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 the fair.

Museum Manners

Please review the following guidelines with your students before their visit:

  1. Please touch only the objects you are invited to touch.
  2. Speak quietly and walk slowly in order to allow other visitors to enjoy the Musuem too.
  3. Stay with your guide.
  4. Food and drink (including gum) are not allowed in the exhibit galleries. Please deposit all items in the containers provided.