Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, commonly known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, took place in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904. The Exposition commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, coincided with the 1904 Olympic Games, and celebrated the United States’ new role as a world player. During the seven months it was open, 20 million visitors viewed objects, peoples, and buildings, from 62 countries, 43 states, and 5 territories. The Exposition showcased recent technological and scientific advances. It also introduced hot dogs, cotton candy, ice cream cones, iced tea, and Dr. Pepper, to a national audience. Though it has been negatively remembered for exhibiting early 20th century racism, at the time it was considered the penultimate celebration of American progress.

Like many other world’s fairs, the Exposition put people on display. In the case of the Philippine exhibit, the Exposition’s organizers wished to demonstrate the progress Americans had made in civilizing their new subjects. Instead of studying the model industrial schools or the latest Philippine products, visitors flocked to see the more entertaining and exotic “dog-eating,” “head-hunting” Igorots. This group of people made up a small proportion of the Filipinos, yet their lack of clothing and ‘heathen’ customs made their exhibits more titillating. Ironically, the Exposition also demonstrated that Americans were not willing to accept Filipinos even when they met American standards of civilization. When the American-trained Philippine Scouts were seen conversing and walking with white women, they were mobbed and forbidden from leaving the Philippine exhibit. Unfortunately, Filipinos were just one of several groups of people that were displayed in ways that revealed more about the racism of the time than the culture of the people.

However, the people on display were just a part of an otherwise exciting world’s fair. Theodore Roosevelt was one of many visitors who found the Exposition thrilling. On opening day, Roosevelt pressed a golden telegraphic key in the White House to officially open the fair. However, Roosevelt did not attend the fair until after the November elections, as he did not wish to be accused of using the fair for political purposes. When he finally came on November 26, 1904, Roosevelt was described as “a ‘live exhibit’ of strenuous life and enjoyment; always in motion; noting everything in sight; breaking away from his party here and there for a special scrutiny of this or that; bubbling over with intelligent and admiring comments...” No one documented whether Roosevelt came across his North Dakota Maltese Cross Cabin or saw the two Roosevelt butter sculptures – one of him dressed as a cowboy on a horse and the other a formal bust sculpture.  Everything he did see pleased him so much that he declared the fair to be the “greatest Exposition of the kind that we have ever seen in recorded history.”

Sources: 

“1904, The World’s Fair: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” Missouri Historical Society. http://mohistory.org/exhibits/Fair/WF/HTML/Overview/ 

Bennitt, Mark; Stockbridge, Frank Parker; Stevens, Walter B. History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition: Comprising the History of the Louisiana Territory, the Story of the Louisiana Purchase and a Full Account of the Great Exposition, Embracing the Participation of the States and Nations of the World, and other Events of the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904, Compiled from Official Sources. Saint Louis, Universal Exposition Publishing Company, 1905. 

Kramer, Paul. “Making Concessions: Race and Empire Revisited at the Philippine Exposition, St. Louis, 1901-1905.” Radical History Review 73 (1999): 75-114. 

Simpson, Pamela H. “Teddy Roosevelt, an American Icon in Butter.” SECAC Review 15, no. 5 (December, 2010): 560-580.