In 1904, St. Louis, Missouri, was host to one of the greatest fairs in the world. Called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, it celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The fair, also called the St. Louis World's Fair, was held on a 1,200-acre tract that is now the famous Forest Park.
The exposition opened on April 30, 1904, and continued until December 1, 1904. It was the first world's fair to turn a profit. It featured the participation of 62 nations, 43 U.S. states, and the federal government. The fair comprised more than 1,500 individual buildings interconnected by 75 miles of roads and walkways. The infrastructure and buildings required three years to construct. A special exposition company was created for coordinating the process. Nearly the entire population of St. Louis was involved in the work. The scale of the plan was so immense that the fair, originally scheduled for 1903, had to be delayed by a year.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was designed to celebrate major human advancements since the Louisiana Purchase. Electric light, then a recent innovation, was used extensively for illumination and decoration.
The fair was designed to reflect an ideal utopian society of the future. Each zone was meticulously planned with a specific purpose. The displays were divided into 12 categories. Each was housed in a structure called the Palace. Those imposing structures sported massive columns and spire towers, and wore an ornamental look that rivaled the embellishments of an actual palace. The largest of the facilities was the Palace of Agriculture, which occupied about 20 acres. The fairground featured architectural masterpieces, broad boulevards, curved bridges and landscaped water vistas.
The fair provided an opportunity for visitors to learn about wonders and cultures from around the globe. Each of the exhibits was designed to be entertaining as well as educative. The exhibits not only displayed the items, but also the process that was involved in their making.
The first Olympics in the United States were held during the fair, but the fair's scale overshadowed the games. Moreover, few international players participated in the games, owing to the high travel costs.
The Vulcan statue of Birmingham, Alabama, currently the largest cast iron statue in the world and the city's symbol, was first exhibited at the exposition in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy.
Apart from state and country exhibitions, the fair featured exhibits by industries, private organizations, theater troupes and music schools. One of the popular zones was the Pike, which featured carnival-style amusements and rides.
Nearly all the structures built during the fair were intended to be temporary. They were therefore constructed of staff, a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers. Following the fair, many of the structures were razed. Some of the buildings were spared, and they exist today. A notable structure among them is the Palace of Fine Art. The exquisite structure featured an interior reminiscent of the grand Roman Baths of Caracalla. The building currently houses the St. Louis Art Museum. Other surviving structures include the Brookings Hall of Washington University, a huge bird cage at the St. Louis Zoo, and mansions located on the northern border of Forest Park.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition still retains its aura and fascination among today’s collectors and historians. The debris of the demolished buildings and structures of the fair are studied by archaeologists. Many of the items originally sold during the fair are now traded as antiques. Those collectibles serve as reminder of the world’s fair whose grandeur remains unmatched and unrivaled.