The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was the second World's Fair held in St. Louis; the first was the St. Louis Exposition in 1884. The Fair celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase (delayed one year). It opened April 30, 1904, and closed December 1 the same year.
The Fair's 1,200 acre (4.9 km²) site, designed by George Kessler , was located at the present-day grounds of Forest Park and on the campus of Washington University, and was the largest fair to date. There were over 1,500 buildings, connected by some 75 miles (120 km) of roads and walkways. It was said to be impossible to give even a hurried glance at everything in less than a week. The Palace of Agriculture alone covered some 20 acres (324,000 m²).
Exhibits were staged by 62 foreign nations, the United States government, and 43 of the then-45 U.S. states. These featured industries, cities, private organizations and corporations, theater troupes, and music schools. There were also carnival-type amusements found on "The Pike."
A popular myth says that Frederick Law Olmsted, who died the year before the fair, designed the park and fair grounds. There are several reasons for this confusion. First, Kessler in his twenties had worked briefly for Olmsted as a Central Park gardener. Second, Olmsted was involved with Forest Park in Queens, New York. Third, Olmsted had planned the renovations to the Missouri Botanical Garden a few blocks to the southeast of the park in 1897. Finally, Olmsted's sons advised Washington University on integrating the campus with the park across the street.
In 1901, the commissioner of architects of the St. Louis Exposition selected Emmanuel Louis Masqueray to be Chief of Design. As Chief of Design of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a position he held for three years, Masqueray designed the following Fair buildings: Palace of Agriculture, the Cascades and Colonnades, Palace of Forestry, Fish, and Game, Palace of Horticulture and Palace of Transportation, all of which were widely emulated in civic projects across the United States as part of the City Beautiful Movement. Masqueray resigned shortly after the Fair opened in 1904, having been invited by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul to come to Minnesota and design a new cathedral for the city.
As with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, all but one of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition's grand, neo-Classical exhibition palaces were temporary edifices. They were built with a material called "staff," a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers. As in Chicago, buildings and statues deteriorated visibly during the months of the Fair.
The Palace of Fine Art, designed by architect Cass Gilbert, featured a grand interior sculpture court based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Standing at the top of Art Hill, it now serves as the home of the St. Louis Art Museum.
The Administration Building is now Brookings Hall, the defining landmark on the campus of Washington University. A copy of the building was erected at Northwest Missouri State University founded in 1905 in Maryville, Missouri. The grounds layout was also recreated in Maryville and now is designated as the official Missouri State Arboretum.
Some of the mansions from the Exposition's era survive along Lindell Boulevard at the north border of Forest Park. The huge bird cage at the St. Louis Zoo dates to the fair. Birmingham, Alabama's iconic cast iron Vulcan statue was first exhibited at the Fair in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy.
The Missouri State building was planned as a permanent structure, but it burned down on November 18, and since the fair was almost over it was not rebuilt. After the fair, the World's Fair Pavilion was built on the site of the Missouri building.
Festival Hall was the site of the largest organ in the world at the time, built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company. It was placed into storage and then eventually purchased by John Wanamaker for his new Wanamaker's store in Philadelphia. See Wanamaker Organ for more details. Completed in 1913, the Jefferson Memorial building was built near the main entrance to the Exposition, at Lindell and DeBalivere. It was built with proceeds from the fair, to commemorate Thomas Jefferson, who initiated the Louisiana Purchase, and to store the Exposition's records and archives. It is now home to the Missouri History Museum.
The famous Bronze Eagle in the Wanamaker Store also came from the Fair. It features hundreds of hand-forged bronze feathers and was the centerpiece of the German exhibition.
Iced tea had been available for a few years prior to the fair, but it was popularized at the fair.
''To further illustrate the indignities heaped upon the Philippine people following their eventual loss to the Americans, the United States made the Philippine campaign the centrepoint of the 1904 World's Fair held that year in St. Louis, MI [sic]. In what was enthusiastically termed a "parade of evolutionary progress," visitors could inspect the "primitives" that represented the counterbalance to "Civilisation" justifying Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Pygmies from New Guinea and Africa, who were later displayed in the Primate section of the Bronx Zoo, were paraded next to American Indians such as Apache warrior Geronimo, who sold his autograph. But the main draw was the Philippine exhibit complete with full size replicas of Indigenous living quarters erected to exhibit the inherent backwardness of the Philippine people. The purpose was to highlight both the "civilising" influence of American rule and the economic potential of the island chains' natural resources on the heels of the Philippine-America War. It was, reportedly, the largest specific Aboriginal exhibit displayed in the exposition. As one pleased visitor commented, the human zoo exhibit displayed "the race narrative of odd peoples who mark time while the world advances, and of savages made, by American methods, into civilized workers.
Frank Fillis produced what was supposedly "the greatest and most realistic military spectacle known in the history of the world". Different portions of the concession featured a British Army encampment, several South African native villages (including Zulu, Bushmen, Swazi, and Ndebele), and a 15 acre arena in which soldiers paraded, sporting events and horse races were held, and major battles from the Second Boer War were re-enacted twice a day. Battle recreations took 2-3 hours and included several Generals and 600 veteran soldiers from both sides of the war. At the conclusion of the show, the Boer General Christiaan De Wet would escape on horseback by leaping from a height of into a pool of water.
Admission ranged from 25 cents for bleacher seats to $1.00 for box seats, and admission to the villages was another 25 cents. The concession cost $48,000 to construct, grossed over $630,000, and netted about $113,000 to the Fair -- the highest grossing military concession of the Fair.
Geronimo, the old Apache medicine man attended.