The Louisiana Purchase Exposition

................The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

Think for a moment about the world of 1904. The Wright Brothers' famous flight at Kitty Hawk occurred the previous year. Gasoline-powered automobiles, motion pictures, and the "wonder drug" aspirin were introduced to the public only 10 years before. Electric lighting and telephones were less than 25 years old, and still a novelty only read about by most Americans. Food was stored in ice boxes, and the horse-drawn ice wagon was a familiar site.

But from Opening Day - April 30, 1904 - to the closing ceremonies on December 1st of that same year, the St. Louis World's Fair played host to nearly 20 million visitors, who witnessed the public debut of air conditioning, were able to ice skate throughout the entire summer, and spoke by wireless telegraph to cities 1500 mile away. In addition, they could "see the world": from the Tyrolean Alps to the jungles of the Philippines; from the gardens of Japan to the holy sites of Jerusalem; from Southwestern pueblos to Eskimo villages. And all within the 1240 acres of the fair.

With illustrations taken from my collection of period guide books, pamphlets, and stereo slides of the fair, I've set up a virtual tour of the fairgrounds that I hope will capture some of the wonder and enjoyment experienced by the fairgoers of 1904. To give a more authentic flavor to the tour, I've liberally lifted some of the descriptive text from promotional pamphlets of the fair, especially the Erie Railroad's brochure.

For ease of handling, I've divided the tour into four parts:

The Heart of the Fair- In this section we will explore the main buildings at the fair and the water features surrounding them.

The World at the Fair - Here we explore some of the exhibits set up by the 45 participating nations. Many states also set up exhibits at the fair, often modeled on historic buildings found in that state.

The Pike - This 1 mile long amusement strip included some of the fair's most fascinating exhibits.

Other Sites of Interest - The fair had several sites that are not easily categorized, such as Jerusalem, The Observation Wheel, The Philippines compound, and the Olympics.

For more information on the fair, including a great section on fair memoribilia, be sure and visit Terry's 1904 World's Fair Site.

The background music for this page is the "St. Louis Rag" by Tom Turpin (1903). One of the early 'classic' rags, about which a great deal has been said in almost every ragtime reference work, "St. Louis Rag" was written for the St. Louis World's Fair (which was delayed until 1904). The cover of the sheet music has a drawing of the Fair Grounds. Turpin was a black saloon owner in St. Louis, and also was a well-known pianist. He was a friend and associate of Joplin and other early ragtime composers.

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