One of our destination points for the afternoon was the Missouri History Museum. We had discussed visiting some of the features of Forest Park that we’d not been to before, and sister recommended The Louisiana Purchase Exposition exhibit housed in the History Museum.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition is the official name of the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis. There is an extensive exhibit called “1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward” in the historic Museum. The exhibit highlights people, entertainment, food, art, and technology on view in St. Louis during the fair. This museum is one of the impressive free features of Forest Park, and we looked forward to seeing it!
The 1904 World’s Fair occupied over 1200 acres of Forest Park, roughly 2 square miles. In 1901, the swampy forest was voted to be the site for the colossal fair. Nearly 10,000 workers worked tirelessly for three years to complete this transformation into a landscape design featuring gardens, lakes, 1500 beautiful structures and several grand palaces. Over twenty million visitors came to exhibits from companies, states and nations during the next seven months. They observed the latest manufacturing products & processes, scientific inventions & innovations, agricultural advances, and famous art treasures that were on display as well as thousands of fair souvenirs and advertising products offered for sale. Many saw the automobile, electricity, moving pictures and aircraft for the first time. The fair was to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase which more than doubled the size of the United States.
Approaching the History Museum, also known as Jefferson Memorial, I knew we were in for something special. Most of my time spent at the museum was snapping photographs of things that interested me while marveling at the artistry, design and beauty. The detailed information in this post was learned weeks after we returned home or gleaned from the snapshots. The more I read about the Fair, the more I am enchanted with it. I hope this will peak your imagination and stir you to learn more about this and other World Fair’s and Expositions. This Fair was the only fair held during the Victorian era that made a profit.
The impressive Jefferson Memorial History Museum was the first national monument to the country’s third President, and paid tribute to his role in the Louisiana Purchase. This Classic Revival structure was built several years after the 1904 Fair, mostly with funds from the event, costing nearly $480,000. Isaac Taylor, chief architect of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was the designer for this beauty that would serve to house the Missouri Historical Society which had outgrown space for their collections. It was dedicated on April 30, 1913, on the 9 year anniversary of the Fair.
I was admiring the architecture as soon as we stepped out of the car onto the pavement.
The artistic detail of the Jefferson Memorial /Forest Park immediately captured my attention.
I didn’t get a photograph of the complete museum, but this link on the Jefferson Memorial shows how it looked before the loggia (covered gallery) was enclosed in 2005. The article mentions that the initial plan was for a statue surrounded by a garden, but the decision was made for the larger-than-life statue in the middle of this impressive structure.
The 20 foot tall Thomas Jefferson sculpture is carved out of a single block of Italian marble. Sixteen columns are enclosed in the arched entryway. Three Tiffany brass and glass pendant chandeliers hang between the side columns.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition featured a fan-shaped design. The main exhibition palaces radiated out from the Festival Hall. The Hall is the center building in front of the forest atop Art Hill. The broad boulevards, spacious plazas, lagoons, curved bridges, sunken gardens and large open spaces created a vision for a beautiful utopian society of the future. Each zone had a specific purpose and was housed in a palace, an architectural masterpiece with massive columns, spire towers and embellishments. The largest structure was the Palace of Agriculture, which occupied about 20 acres.
The 264 foot Observation Wheel was a centrally located attraction for the Fair. It was a memorable way to view the grounds, and was the committee’s answer to compete with the Eiffel Tower from the Paris World’s Fair in 1889. The 50 cent ride consisted of two rotations lasting 15-20 minutes, with a guide stationed in each car. There were 36 wooden cars modified from train cars, that could hold 60 people each, which meant 2160 people could ride at one time. The Observation Wheel opened the end of May, several weeks after the Fair opened.
The famous wheel was also a venue for special events. There were 50 weddings and a number of dinner parties held in the cars. One ceremony included a couple that entered the car on horseback that were married on their horses at the peak of the ride. Another couple was married on top of one of the cars. Because of the popularity, one car was equipped with a piano and designated for weddings.
The Ferris Wheel had been used for the Chicago World’s Fair ten years prior, and was relocated for $150,000. One hundred seventy-five freight cars moved the 4,200 ton of material from Chicago to St. Louis. In four months, the Observation Wheel had recouped the funds used to acquire it. After the Fair, a sale to Coney Island fell through and the great Wheel was sold for $1,800 for scrap. Almost 2 years after it had opened in Forest Park, 100 pounds of dynamite was used to destroy it. Tickets for .25 each were sold to watch the demo, which took several tries.
It’s hard for me to imagine that most of the grand buildings of the Fair were designed to be temporary structures made out of plaster of Paris and hemp fiber mixture placed on wood frames. The Art Palace, located in what is now the St. Louis Art Museum, is one of only two buildings used by the Fair that were built to be permanent structures The only other structure to remain from the 1904 World’s Fair in Forest Park is the Open Flight bird-cage located in the St. Louis Zoo, built in 1913. I have photos of the Art Museum that I will share with you in another post.
If you travel to St. Louis, carve some time to spend in Forest Park. Part of the agreement for the World’s Fair to be held in this location was that it had to be redeveloped into an organized park after the completion of the Fair. The park has many traces of the grandeur of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. If you want to see original photos and learn more history, you will find a wealth of information at this site.
I found studying about the 1904 World’s Fair absolutely fascinating. This Edwardian time period is when our home was built and is my favorite era. I imagine the grandeur of the palaces will pale in comparison to the eternal home that Endless Grace refers to in Matthew that He has prepared for us. Friends, I hope you have or will accept that free gift He offers us through faith.