The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward
Centennial Exhibition Opens May 2, 2004, at the Missouri History Museum

ST. LOUIS, April 12, 2004—On 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 1,270 acres of a newly redesigned Forest Park. 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. Of 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 located 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. The Missouri Historical Society will mark the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition with the opening of The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward, an exceptional new exhibition at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. The exhibition opens to the general public on Sunday, May 2, 2004. The exhibition is free! The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward embodies the sights, sounds and splendor of the Fair. Exhibition visitors will discover the human stories of the Fair’s creators, participants and attendees. Far more than a nostalgic journey, the exhibition is an exploration of the aspirations and visions of the future held by the men, women and children of 1904. The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward will be housed in the Jefferson Gallery and the Lopata World’s Fair Commemorative Center located in the Missouri History Museum’s Jefferson Memorial Building. It is especially fitting that the centennial exhibition is located here; the Jefferson Memorial Building is a legacy of the 1904 World’s Fair. The first national memorial to Thomas Jefferson was built in 1913 with the proceeds from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Built at what was the main entrance to the fairgrounds, the building commemorated Thomas Jefferson’s role in the Louisiana Purchase. Funding for The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward is provided by Ameren Charitable Trust and The Laclede Group. Additional support is provided by UMB Bank of St. Louis, N.A., Mr. and Mrs. William R. Orthwein, Jr., Mrs. Lucianna Gladney Ross, and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph F. Shaughnessy and the citizens of St. Louis City and St. Louis County through the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District.

The Exhibition

Organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair wished to present St. Louis as a city at the forefront of technological and educational advances, its citizens looking ahead to a new century of hope and promise for a better, more civilized life. Through artifacts, works of art and photographs, personal accounts, music and family-focused interactives, the exhibition encourages 21st century citizens to look back at their predecessors’ hopes and expectations for the future.
Like original Fair-goers, museum visitors will view such objects as furniture from the Chinese, German, French and Irish pavilions; fine and decorative arts: and scientific and industrial technologies that were unveiled at the Fair. Souvenirs, program guides, and trinkets that were available for purchase at the Fair will also be on display. Period clothing of Fair-goers, utilitarian garb of Fair workers and native dress of people who were part of the Fair’s “living displays” will represent various roles people played in the Fair’s success. The exhibition will boast over 250 artifacts and objects, as well as interactive “Pillars of Knowledge” to educate and entertain the whole family. The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward boasts seven exciting, artifact-rich sections.

  • Constructing the Fair: 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 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. Artifacts featured in the section include: the ceremonial hatchet used at the 1901 groundbreaking in Forest Park; a bust of Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company President David R. Francis; the gavel used by Francis to officially open the Fair; a sterling silver punch bowl—a congratulatory gift presented to Francis; the Fair’s electrical wiring diagram; construction bids; real estate and sewer blueprints; architectural drawings; an observation wheel light bulb; a horticultural list; a surveyor’s book; staff fragments; a press pass; and more.
  • Nations on Display: 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. Artifacts featured in the section include: a German cabinet inlaid with maple and mahogany; a feathered Tanzanian head ornament; an elaborate Chinese rosewood desk with white wood inlay; a pair of silk shoes from China; an invitation to a reception honoring the empress of China’s 70th birthday; a Japanese teapot; an Irish chair; a Louis XVI Revival gilded armchair from the French Pavilion; passes to various international gardens and exhibits; brochures; and much more.
  • People at the Fair: 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 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. An exciting component of this section is a series of photographic portraits taken by Emme and Mamie Gerhard; the Gerhard sisters operated a successful portrait studio on Olive Street in St. Louis. During the Fair, they photographed individuals and families living and performing both on the Pike and the Anthropology Department exhibits. Taken exclusively in their studio using natural light, these captivating images serve as a stunning document of people from far-off lands who made St. Louis their home during the Fair. Other artifacts featured in the section include: a pair of Lakota Sioux moccasins; a beadwork bag; a botanical specimen from the Philippine exhibit; an Igorot shield; a bamboo fish trap from the Philippines; a late 19th century robe from Yazo Island, Japan; wood carvings; photographic portraits; period clothing; and much more.
  • Art at the Fair: 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. Artifacts featured in the section include: embroidery work; paintings by George Catlin and Fredrick O. Sylvester; a bronze bust by Bessie Potter Vonnoh; jewelry and silver items designed by Tiffany & Co.; marble sculptures; and much more.
  • Viewing the Fair: 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” and “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. Artifacts featured in the section include: lithographs; paintings and watercolors by John Ross Key and Charles Graham; advertising broadsides; souvenir postcards; stereographic cards; postcard albums; and much more.
  • Shopping at the Fair: 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 the 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 “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. Artifacts in this section include: “Buster Brown” shoes; a Bissell Carpet Company “Parlor Queen” carpet sweeper; a cut glass punch bowl manufactured by Libbey and Son Glass Co.; Weller, Rookwood and Roseville pottery; souvenir pins; a Dr. Pepper watch fob; a child’s tea set; official writing tablet, envelope and deck cards manufactured by Samuel Cupples Envelope Company; pieces of the popular ruby flash decorative glass; and much more.
  • The 1904 Olympics: 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. Artifacts in this section include: committee badges; programs; a miniature Glen Echo Country Club golf trophy; dumbbells; a loving cup won for the running high jump; a medal won for the 220-yard run; a medal won for the tug of war; and much more.

Overall, the Missouri Historical Society will tap into its rich collection of 1904 World’s Fair collection to bring to life the Louisiana Purchase Exposition a hundred years after the fair was opened with the call, “Open ye gates. Swing wide, ye portals.”

Opening May 2, 2004, The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward will be on display at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park at Lindell and DeBaliviere, daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Tuesdays until 8 p.m. Admission is free. From May 31, 2004, through September 6, 2004, the Missouri History Museum will offer special summer hours: Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. For more information on The 1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward, visit the Missouri Historical Society’s Web site at

For more information, visit or call 314/746-4599.