The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

by Tom Hankins

"The year 2004 marks two major historical events; the Centennial (100th Anniversary) of the 1904 World's Fair in Saint Louis, Missouri & the Bicentennial (200th Anniversary) of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Twenty-eight years after authoring the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Thomas Jefferson as President of the United States acquired additional land through the Louisiana Purchase from France, expanding the United States to twice its size. In 1804 President Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on what was known as the "North Western Discovery" to explore and map a northern route to the Pacific Ocean. The Fair was originally scheduled for 1903 to celebrate the Centennial of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but because of the large size of acreage (1,272 acres) and delays in building, the opening was postponed until 1904. One of the major delays in construction occurred in 1903 when flooding along the Mississippi River and other low lying areas brought a halt to the project. Figure 1 is a post card from that era depicting the flood waters along the levee in St. Louis. This resulted in the 1904 St. Louis Fair commemorating the acquisition of the vast territories known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Figure 1-Post Card -The Louisiana Exhibition 1904 - Levee During Flood of 1903

The topic, to be covered, in this article is the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the official name was Universal Exposition at St. Louis), but was better known as the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair. This World's Fair/Exposition was not to be like the earlier 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, which was promoting social and commercial interest of the Western Hemisphere Nations. Nor would it be like the following 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon, which commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the exploration of a land route to the Pacific. This Fair/Exposition stood alone and was unique for many reasons.

The Fair started on April 30, 1904 and ended on December 1, 1904, seven fabulous months. In 1904 St. Louis was best known for caskets, shoes (Brown's shoes for one company) and beer (mainly Busch). At this time St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States.

Mr. Davis R. Francis was director of the Fair. He had been Mayor of St. Louis, Governor of Missouri, worked in the Department of Interior of the United States, a member of the Board of Trustees of Washington University and later became Ambassador to Russia. Figure 2 is a post card depicting the 'Home of Hon. D. R. Francis…'. Mr. Francis and the group of men, called the Fair Fathers', around him had this motto: "Nothing will divert us, nothing will deter us, there is nothing that we cannot and will not accomplish."

Figure 2-Post Card - Home of Hon. D. R. Francis, St. Louis

Since a total of 15 million dollars was needed to finance the project, the acquisition of funds was divided three ways: one third from the citizens of St. Louis, one third from the City of St. Louis and one third from the national government was pledged. Shares were sold for $10 each to raise 5-million dollars from the citizens of St. Louis.

There were a number of firsts at this Fair. Among them were: aluminum was exhibited at a world's fair for the first time and the ice cream cone was invented. (A waffle concessionaire, Earnest A Hamwi, at the 1904 World's Fair, rolled one of his thin waffles into a cone and gave it to a nearby ice-cream vendor who had ran out of dishes.-from the Missouri Historical Society).

Wichita's connection to the 1904 World's Fair: Shortly after the World's Fair was over many buildings were demolished and statuary was moved off of the Fair grounds. Several of the pieces of statuary came to Wichita's Wonderland Park. We know this occurred because of post card pictures. Figure 3 is one of the post cards with a view of the statuary.

Figure 3-Wonderland Park, Wichita, Kansas-Statuary from the World's Fair

The statuary did not last long since they were placed outside and were made of light weight material (plaster and cloth). The second connection Wichita had with the Fair were the large timbers used to build the Salvation Army Building at 619-623 East Douglas. This Wichita building was constructed in 1908 and originally housed the Johnston and Larimer Dry Goods Store. "Large timbers were salvaged from the main pavilion of the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, were used in the construction of this store." (Wichita Architecture 1874-1947 by Gordon A Davis & Julanne McCarthy, Wichita Public Schools, Wichita, Kansas, January, 1979, p. 35). The building was torn down several years ago and the space converted into a Park.

There is also a connection with the Fair and Lindsborg, Kansas. The Swedish Pavilion was moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Lindsborg, Kansas and donated to Bethany College. The Pavilion was moved to its present day location in 1969. Figure 4 is a reduced copy of a Souvenir Card of the Swedish Homestead Pavilion as it appeared in St. Louis along with an insert of His Majesty King Oscar and President Teddy Roosevelt.

Figure 4-The Swedish Homestead Pavilion-Now Located in Lindsburg, Kansas

Figure 5-Stamps and Special Cancellations

There are several stamps on 1904 World's Fair post cards and covers. The #300 one cent Franklin (issued in 1902-1903) is very common on post cards. Also the "Louisiana Purchase Exposition Issue, St. Louis, Missouri, April 30-Dec. 1, 1904", was common on Fair mail. This set of five stamps were the one cent-Robert L. Livingston (#323), two cent-Thomas Jefferson (#324), three cent-James Monroe (#325), five cent-William McKinley (#326), and ten cent-Map of Louisiana Purchase (#327). The most commonly used were the one cent Livingston and two cent Jefferson. Scott's list the two cent Jefferson on cover at $2.50. Figure 5, previous page, are cropped post cards and covers depicting the 1˘ #300 Franklin stamp, the 1˘ #323 Livingston stamp and the 2˘ #324 Jefferson stamp, along with a cropped 2˘ envelope U395.

Another interesting aspect of the St. Louis World's Fair were the special cancellations used before the opening of the World's Fair and during the seven long months. Two of the most collectable cancels are depicted in Figure 5. The circular city postmark with Saint spelled out versus just St. and the scroll with the words "World's Fair St. Louis", from an International machine cancel. In addition to these cancellations there are numerous others, some rare while others are plentiful. Shown below are a two others: A Barry machine cancel and an International machine cancel. In all there are about 18 different cancels associated with the Fair.

Figure 6-Worlds Fair Cancellations

There is another single stamp issued in 1998 within the Celebrate the Century-1900's Souvenir Sheet, Scott #3182e. This stamp pictures two children each with an ice cream cones at the 1904 Fair. On the back of the stamp it says, "The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 was known as the St. Louis World's Fair. Americans were already enjoying ice cream, but the ice cream cone was popularized at the fair." The stamp picture is part of a larger picture of three children and a lady. All four people are wearing large hats. Scott Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps and Covers-2001. Figure 7 is a post card depicting the photo used to design the stamp used in the Celebrate the Century series for 1900's. Please note the two figures are reversed and the background has a Ferris Wheel and the children's ice cream cones have a full dip of ice cream. The large hats on the figures are very interesting.

Figure 7-Post Card Photo Used to Design the Celebrate the Century 32˘ Stamp

The post cards from the Fair vary. Some of the different types are: Silver series, hold to the light, real photos and add-ons with glitter. There is a large variety of artist designed cards.

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Posted November 25, 2004 RR