When The World Came To St. Louis . . .

The Twentieth Century was born in Forest Park with the grandeur and spectacle of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition -- The World's Fair of 1904. From April 30 through December 1, 1904, more than 20 million people went to the fair, an average of more than 100,000 each day.


The movement to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase began in 1898 and gathered momentum under the direction of former Governor of Missouri, David R. Francis.

The City of St. Louis loaned the park for use of the fair with the condition that after the close of the exposition the area would be returned to a park setting. The city appropriated $5 million for the fair, which was matched by a like amount by public subscription and another $5 million was voted by United States Congress.

Construction began in 1901 and the fair was scheduled to open in 1903. But as the enterprise grew in scope and size it became necessary to postpone it until 1904.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition transformed the western half of the park into a fairyland of white palaces surrounded by lagoons and artistic landscaping. Its sparkling centerpiece was Festival Hall and the Cascades which crowned Art Hill above the Grand Lagoon. Eight major exhibition palaces were built in a fan-shaped plan in the park's northwestern corner.

Other main elements were the Plateau of States, a concentration of state buildings on the present site of the Zoo; the amusement area called the Pike, which bordered the fairgrounds north of Lindell Boulevard, and Model Street, where a group of buildings were erected by various cities.


The largest of all world fairs, before or since, covered an area of 1,272 acres, reaching as far west as the present Big Bend Boulevard and south to Oakland Avenue. Of the 1,272 acres, 615 were private property and included all of the land owned by Washington University. The remainder of the park was 715 acres.

South of the college campus area was the vast Palace of Agriculture, which covered 20 acres, national buildings and the Philippine Exposition.

West of Skinker Road was the fair's administration complex, housed in the newly built structures of Washington University. Francis Field was the site of the 1904 Olympic Games, which was held during the fair. It was the first Olympcis held in the United States.

Relatively untouched was the "Wilderness," as the heavily wooded southwestern corner of the park was known. A major project in the site preparation had been the straightening of the meandering River des Peres and placing it in an underground conduit.


The World's Fair consisted of 900 distinct buildings, erected on the rolling terrain, with its contours broken by hills raising forty to sixty-five feet. Fifteen large exhibit palaces, all outlined with electric lights, covered 128 acres of the 1,272-acre fairgrounds.

Twenty-two countries were represented, including Japan, China, the Phillipines and Ceylon. Fourty-four U.S. cities, states and territories built large display buildings. The federal government built a bird cage large enough for the birds to fly freely. A working coal mine was realistic, since the workmen actually found coal under the park ground while building the exhibit.

The famous Ferris Wheel was moved to St. Louis from Chicago, where it had been stored after being used in the 1893 World's Fair. It could carry 2,160 people -- 60 in each of its 36 cars -- more than 250 feet in the air, giving them a spectacular view of the fair.

Fair visitors saw exhibits ranging from a cow made entirely of butter, to their first look at the automobiles and electric lights. They ate hot dogs, drank ice tea and licked ice cream in cones.

It was landscape architect George E. Kessler who turned the fair site into Forest Park. He supplemented the earlier landscape work done by M. G. Kern in the eastern part of the park in the 187's. Although the original contract with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company required the park be "fully restored" within one year after the close of the fair, the task of razing buildings and restoring the site for park use was completed nine years later, by April 30, 1913.


The only buildings remaining from the fair are:

  • The administration building for the fair became Washington University's Brookings Hall (shown at right)

  • The Palace of Fine Arts was turned over to the Art Museum in 1906.

  • In 1905, the city paid $3,500 to buy the bird cage from the federal government exhibit but that did not include the birds.

Buildings acquired with proceeds or through the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company:


  • In early 1905, the LPEC offered the city a bronze statue of the city's patron saint, Louis IX. Called the Apothesis of St. Louis, it was made as a copy of the statue exhibited at the fair. It was unveiled Oct. 4, 1906.

  • The company built four bridges.

  • The company offerd to build the city a monumental entrance to the park at DeBaliviere but the city said it needed a shelter where it could sell refreshments. The World's Fair Pavilion, built at the top of Government Hill, cost $40,000.

  • Plans for the Jefferson Memorial building, built at the site of the main entrance to the fair, were announced in 1910. It was planned as an entrance to the park, through an arch housing the statue of Thomas Jefferson. The building was to house all of the archives from the fair. It was dedicated on April 1, 1913. Construction had taken two years and cost $450,000.

    (Shown above is a photo of the original "Apothesis of St. Louis" as it stood at the fair.)

  • It was estimated the park received $500,000 worth of improvements from the fair, including streets, bridges, sewers and water systems.

History of Forest Park