Also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition was an international exposition held in St. Louis from April 30 until December 1, 1904. The production was the culmination of local, state, and federal funds totaling $15 million to finance and organize the event. More than 60 countries participated, and an astounding 43 of the 45 states of the time maintained their own exhibitions at the fair. In total, 19.7 million came to see the spectacle that was being talked about throughout the world.
At the time, themes of race and empire were critically important and evident at the fair. The fair’s long lasting impact on intellectuals in the fields of history, art history, architecture, and anthropology can be witnessed today. From the point of view of the memory of the average person who was at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, they would tell you that the fair focused on entertainment, consumer goods, and popular culture.
History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition
St. Louis hosted the World’s Fair to celebrate the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Based out of St. Louis, the city was known as the launching point for Louis and Clark’s expedition across the newly purchased United States of America. The idea for such a commemorative event emerged in 1898, with Kansas City and St. Louis initially presented as potential hosts for the fair based on their central location within the country, as well as their importance to the original Louisiana Purchase.
To put on a fair of that size, a lot of preparation went into the organization. An initial $5 million was committed by the city of St. Louis through the sale of city bonds, authorized by the Missouri state legislature in 1899. After a fundraising target helped planners hit their goal in January 1901, plans to make the fair a reality were finally underway. A final installment of $5 million toward the $15 million total came from earmarked funds that were part of a congressional appropriations bill passed in 1900.
President of the United States at the time, William McKinley, actively supported the fair mission after organizers paid a visit to the White House in 1899.
Initially scheduled to open in 1903 as a centennial celebration, the exposition was delayed until 1904 to allow for full-scale participation by more states and foreign countries. The exposition remained in operation for 9-months in total. During the year of the fair, the fair supplanted the annual St. Louis Exposition of agricultural, trade, and scientific exhibitions, which had been help in the city since the 1880s.
The fair covered 1,200-acres of land in total, designed by George Kessler. It was located in what is present day Forest Park on the campus of Washington University, and it was the largest fair in the area to date. As part of the fair, over 1,500 buildings, connected through 75 miles of roads and walkways, gave the fair its enormous grandiose effect that welcomed 50 countries from around the world.
At collector’s stamp item was released at the time to commemorate the fair.
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