What do Dr. Pepper, automobiles, and fax machines have in common? If you said they all debuted at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis, Missouri, you’d be right.
Better known as the 1904 World’s Fair, this epic event should have been held in 1903, in order to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. It was delayed a year to allow time for more exhibitors to participate. It could easily be said that the 1904 World’s Fair did more to propel America (and the rest of the world) into the 20th century than any other single event. By the time the fair closed in December 1904, nearly 20 million people had attended the Fair. Those 20 million people saw more new inventions–appliances, machinery, tools, vehicles, and foods–than they had ever dreamed of. Many of those inventions are ones that we use and enjoy every single day.
According to popular legend, Dr. Pepper, hot dogs, ice cream cones, and a host of other foods were invented at the fair. While that makes for a great story, it isn’t entirely accurate.
Dr. Pepper, fruit icicles, and puffed rice were first introduced to the public at the fair and a host of other foods (hot dogs, peanut butter, ice cream cones, the Club sandwich, cotton candy, hamburgers, and iced tea; to name a few…) weren’t invented there, but were definitely made popular on the Pike.
The Pike was the name of a street at the fair which contained food, entertainment, and activities galore. Fair-goers could be treated to the music of brass bands, the gyrations of belly-dancers, or witness an epic naval battle. They could “travel” to exotic locations and ride elephants, camels, or a ferris wheel. The phrase “coming down the Pike” comes from the 1904 World’s Fair.
A bit more trivia about the fair:
Automobiles were first used as utility vehicles by Fair employees.
Myths about the dangers of electricity were dispelled at the fair, since many of the buildings made liberal use of it.
Although Coca-Cola no longer contained cocaine, its reputation prevented it from gaining a concession at the Fair. Fair-goers could indulge in Hires Root Beer, Circle A Ginger Ale, and of course, Dr. Pepper, but Coca-Cola was hard to find.
Due to the incredible heat that summer and danger of using Mississippi River water for drinking and cooking, water was piped into concessionaires and exhibition halls for 12 cents per 1000 gallons—later reduced to the princely sum of one cent per 1000 gallons. Free bottled water could be obtained at the Palaces of Agriculture and Manufacture. Also, for a penny per portion fair-goers could purchase cold water from “slot machines.” (You might recognize some of the company names: Poland Springs, White Rock, American Carlsbad…)
Other companies represented at the Fair have gone on to become household names.
Jack Daniel Whiskey
Log Cabin Syrup
Welch’s Grape Juice
Expositions are the timekeepers 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. They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student. -President William McKinley at the 1901 World’s Fair
That seems like a pretty fair (pun intended) assessment of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. To take a look at more amazing photos, click here.