I have always wanted to go back in time and visit the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World’s Fair).
No, you can’t quit reading yet.
I know it sounds weird that I’d like to travel more than 100 years in the past, but I am obsessed with the 7 month long event, held in my hometown of St. Louis.
I have many original items from the Exposition, thanks to my husband and friend Molly; however, neither has purchased the one item I truly want. A time machine. Until then, I’ve read everything I can about the Exposition and would like to share some firsts that occurred during this magical time.
What was life like in 1904?
Many fair attendees were seeing “firsts” that they never thought possible. No one had radio at this point. My grandmother (born in 1914) didn’t have her first radio until 1929, which was not unusual. So unless you read it in the newspaper or heard it from a neighbor, you had no idea what you were about to see at the fair.
You probably would have been dead when you were still fairly good-looking. Life expectancy was just 47 years old. There was also a good chance you knew some people who couldn’t read and write (20%) and it’s likely you never graduated from high school (only 6% did). Writing letters was in style, since only 10% of people had a telephone in their home. Ladies, don’t complain about child birth today. 95% of women gave birth at home and most physicians did not have a college education. #scary.
Not all things were bad. You could buy heroin and morphine over the counter. And, it was that New Years Eve that the first celebration in Times Square took place. Dick Clark wanted too much money, so they went with another guy.
What was the fair like?
- There was a mile long boardwalk area, called the “Pike”, that held a variety of people, recreational opportunities and events.
- While walking the pike you would see such things as monkeys doing tricks and baby incubators (a new invention). You could also immerse yourself in various experiences, such as visiting the North Pole or the devastation of the Galveston flood. You could also walk through re-created European villages and animal displays. In the background, you’d often hear John Philip Sousa’s band performing. This is far from a complete list, there was so much more!
- The ice cream cone was introduced, and perhaps invented, at the fair.
- Dr. Pepper, Hot Dogs, Peanut Butter, the Club Sandwich, Cotton Candy, Hamburgers and iced tea became much more well-known and popular, as the result of its presence at the fair. Urban legend leads many to believe these items were invented at the fair, but that’s not the case.
- There were exhibits of people and groups from around the world, held in an area called the “Living Museum”. You would see families of pygmies (for example) completing daily tasks in surroundings similar to their homes.
- One display introduced the idea of cooking with electricity. You thought you had it bad when your microwave stopped working!
- The Palace of Electricity featured new electrical equipment and appliances, including the x-ray machine, telegraph, telephone, and batteries.
- There were also several other Palace including one for Machinery, Transportation, Education & Social Economy, Mines and Metallurgy, Liberal Arts, Manufactures, and Varied Industry.
- The Liberty Bell was moved west of the Mississippi for the first time, as it was displayed at the fair. Its a lot smaller than you’d think.
- Some of the more unusual state displays included a life size statue of a cow and dairy maid created by butter (Wisconsin), a 9 foot Native-American made out of cereals (Kansas) and a Grizzly bear made out of prunes (California).
Good luck finding these outfits at Kohl’s.
I’ve probably pushed the limits of how much you are willing to read about 1904. However, I hope I’ve brought you back to a special time in history. One that hopefully still exists on some dimension we can visit together one day. While most people ask if there’s life after death, I ask if there’s a time machine I can use. Molly, I would totally take you with me.
Is there somewhere you’d like to travel back in time to visit? Leave your comments either here or on my Facebook page.