In Photos: The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

In April 1904, St. Louis opened its doors to the world for what was officially called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, but was widely known as the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Millions of dollars had been spent to build the 1,200-acre fairgrounds and its nearly 1,500 buildings—a huge scale that ended up delaying the opening by a year. During the eight months the fair stayed open, nearly 20 million people paid a visit.

On display were marvels of technology, agriculture, art, and history, and there were amusement rides and entertainment to be found in a section called “the Pike.”

The fair introduced a huge audience to some relatively new inventions such as private automobiles, outdoor electric lighting, and the X-ray machine—as well as foods from across the United States and around the world.

The exposition also had a focus on anthropological exhibits—with an approach that is shocking by today’s standards: In some cases, organizers brought people from the Philippines, the Arctic, and elsewhere to the fairgrounds as set pieces among re-creations of their home environment or villages.

After the fair closed, nearly all of its structures were demolished within a short time, leaving only a few footprints, ponds, and canals in Forest Park in St. Louis.


A view of the natural-history fossil exhibit, with a model of a whale and skeletons of several dinosaurs, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904. The Smithsonian coordinated all of the U.S. government exhibits and prepared a display on its activities and collections for the exposition.

Smithsonian Institution

A bird’s-eye view of construction taking place on some of the 1904 World’s Fair buildings on January 24, 1904

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

The inside entrance of the Palace of Machinery, photographed as construction continued in 1903.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

A craftsman stands by a bust of Thomas Jefferson, the model for the statue by Charles Grafly installed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, circa 1903.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

An overview of the Palace of Transportation and surrounding fairgrounds, photographed in 1904.

Missouri History Museum

On April 30, 1904—the opening day of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair—William H. Thompson, the president of the National Bank of Commerce in St. Louis, stands on the dais at the Louisiana Monument in the Plaza of St. Louis. Standing next to him is David R. Francis, the president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

World’s Fair opening-day crowds gather, with William Howard Taft in the foreground. At the time, Taft was serving as the U.S. secretary of war under President Theodore Roosevelt. The Palace of Manufactures stands in the background.

Missouri Historical Society

Fairgoers approach Festival Hall and the West Restaurant in April 1904.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

A view of the South Lagoon, as seen from the Grand Basin.

Missouri Historical Society

Statues of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant flank the entrance to the Illinois State building, photographed at the 1904 World’s Fair in June 1904. The Ferris wheel can be seen at the right.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

The Missouri Corn Temple exhibit stands inside the Palace of Agriculture.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

A view of the Allis-Chalmers exhibit in the Palace of Machinery shows exhibits from companies such as Jeanesville Iron Works, Crocker-Wheeler, Doble Abner, Harrisburg Foundry, General Electric, and Westinghouse.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

Inside the Palace of Horticulture, an elephant made from almonds stands in the California exhibit.

Jessie Tarbox Beals / Missouri Historical Society

The Underwood Typewriter exhibit stands inside the Palace of Liberal Arts. Underwood constructed a colorful pavilion with jewel-like stained glass set in an iron frame. The structure was lit with concealed electric bulbs. Six of its 12 model typewriters stood on specially made pedestals with adjustable mahogany chairs for the typists. Nearby the Underwood display were other typewriter exhibits by the Fox Typewriter Company, Mittag & Volger, Fay-Sholes, and Smith-Corona.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

An exhibit of historic locomotive engines fills part of the huge Palace of Transportation. A number of locomotives from 19th-century England and America were on display.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

A view of the Sunken Garden from the steps of the U.S. government building.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

A view of the East Cascade Falls, looking toward the Palace of Electricity.

Missouri Historical Society

A night view of the illuminated Festival Hall and Cascades from the Plaza of St. Louis across the Grand Basin, with the Terrace of States behind Festival Hall.

Missouri Historical Society

Fairgoers travel in a World’s Fair autobus.

Missouri Historical Society

A bride and groom pose for their wedding photograph at the top of the DeForest Wireless Telegraph Tower at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Violet E. Ingle and Alfred M. Landers, both from Worden, Illinois, were married on June 12, 1904, on the highest platform of the tower by the Reverend Dr. B. C. Palmer, a pastor of Lafayette Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. The top of the 300-foot tower was a popular attraction at the fair.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

A view of fair visitors crowding the Pike on Pike Day, June 4, 1904. The Pike was the main thoroughfare of amusement concessions at the fair. Pike Day celebrations included the Parade of Nations, a lacrosse match between Native American teams, and a variety of performances put on by representatives of the Pike concessions.

St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

Two model American warships and operators, photographed at the Naval Show at the Pike.

Missouri Historical Society

Related Articles More from author

1 Comment

  1. Yvonne Hughes says

    All the photos I view from your site, are fantastic, I really enjoy them all. They are so unique and just great to look at and the detail in so many photos is just incredible. Thank you so much They make my day. Yvonne Hughes

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.