Monday, 24 April 2017

St. Louis World's Fair a Sort of Renaissance

"For Reedy,the World's Fair was more than just an event.  It was to be the beginning of a St. Louis Renaissance." 

St. Louis Mirror editor William Marion Reedy published a scathing report, "What's Wrong with St. Louis?", condemning the lack of civic pride in St. Louis at the turn of the last century.  He challenged its citizens to host a World's Fair, to seize the opportunity to improve the appearance of their city.  Reedy hoped that such a fair would draw attention to St. Louis.  "The country at large is familiar with men and events in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, but St. Louis might as well not be on the map..."  Reedy pointed out that St. Louis lacked a well defined character.  Chicago had its architecture; Boston had Beacon Hill; Philadelphia had Independence Hall; San Francisco had its trolleys.  But St. Louis -- "Mention of its name calls up no mental picture."  Reedy had set the stage for the city of St. Louis to come out from under its shadow.  

Citizens of St. Louis were up for the challenge.  In the years preceding the Exposition, the city contributed $5 million for the Fair, while private donors contributed an additional $5 million.  Fair organizers visited the White House in 1899 and secured a promise from President William McKinley to promote their endeavour.  "Expositions are the time keepers of progress.  They record the world's advancement.  They stimulate the energy, enterprise and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius.  They go into the home.  The broaden and brighten the daily life of the people.  They open mighty storehouses of information to the student." (President McKinley, 1901 World's Fair)

The Louisiana State Exposition, held in 1904, would host the world.  Almost 20 million visitors came through its gate in its seven month duration.  It comprised an area of 1270 acres.  Sixty three countries displayed exhibits.  A total of 1500 buildings were open to visitors connected by 75 miles of roads and walkways.  Scientific inventions at the Exposition included infant incubators, x-ray machines and an early wireless telephone.  New products for sale included ice cream cones, cotton candy and Dr. Pepper.

The Exposition left its mark on St. Louis.  It put the city on the map.  The Palace of Fine Arts is now St. Louis' Art Museum.  The Fair inspired the song "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis" sung by Judy garland in the 1944 movie "Meet Me in St. Louis".

Louisiana Purchase Exposition St. Louis 1904.jpg

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