The St. Louis Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo, known as one of the finest in the country, originated in Fairgrounds Park. The zoo at Fairgrounds was begun in 1876 and occupied several buildings and paddocks on the grounds.


Forest Park received its initial collection of zoo animals in 1891, when the remainder of the zoological collection of the old St. Louis Fairgrounds was relocated in the eastern part of the park.

By 1896, the Forest Park Board's report stated that the zoological collection showed very little progress, with few additions either by donation or purchase. An impetus was given to the Zoo after the World's Fair, when its bird collection was housed in the huge bird cage left by the U.S. Government after the close of the exposition.


Until the organization of the Zoological Society of St. Louis in 1911, the collection consisted of the denizens of the aviary and a few monkeys and bears housed in nearby cages.

The progress made in those years could be attributed to the efforts of George Dieckman, the society's perennial president. He guided bills for support of the Zoo as a municipal institution through the Board of Aldermen and the State Legislature. In 1913, the city passed an ordinance setting aside 77 acres of Forest Park for the Zoo and two years later the State Legislature passed legislation enabling the imposition of a tax for its support.

In 1916, the electorate of St. Louis approved a property tax assessment to build and maintain the city's Zoo, becoming the first zoo in the country to be supported by city government.

It's administration was vested in the Zoological Board of Control composed of city officials and four citizens.


Largely responsible for the growth and success of the St. Louis Zoo was George P. Vierheller, who was secretary of the Board and Director of the Zoo for many years during its formative period. Dieckman made a trip to the famous Hagenback Zoo in Hamburg, Germany and returned with ideas for outdoor animal shows and for barless bear pits, both of which were begun at the Zoo about 1919. A memorable event in the Zoo's early history was the purchase of "Miss Jim", its first elephant, through the contributions of St. Louis school children in 1917. Since that time, the story of the Zoo has been one of continual improvement and expansion into one of the world's most noteworthy zoological collections.

Its progress was given great impetus by the 1923 bond issue, which made possible the construction of buildings for primates, reptiles and birds. An outdoor amphitheater for the Zoo's famous lion, elephant and chimpanzee shows was constructed and Peacock Valley was developed to display aquatic specimens.

Improved paddocks have been installed and new buildings erected for large mammals, aquatic birds, primates, etc.

"Big Cat Country", a barless outdoor complex for the exhibition of lions and other large felines, was built in 1976 and replaced the old Lion House which dated back to 1914. Zoo Line narrow gauge railroad, which is 1 1/2 miles long, was opened in 1963 and the Children's Zoo has been a popular feature since 1969.

Since 1971, the Zoo has been part of the St. Louis Zoo-Museum District. The Zoo occupies 70 acres in the park. It is open throughout the year and is free of charge.

Visit The St. Louis Zoo or call 314 images/- 0900.

History of Forest Park