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In a golden age of invention, discovery and exploration, the World's Fair celebrated the cultural, industrial and social riches and curiosities of a new world. Thomas Edison oversaw the proper setup of the electrical exhibits, and the Palace of Electricity covered seven acres devoted to the wonders of this new marvel. A Moving Picture Theatre gave many Americans their first glimpse of the new medium and for many the Fair was the first opportunity to communicate across thousands of miles by wireless or telephone. The Fair demonstrated how 'fast' food could be cooked in minutes using electricity. Nightly illuminations lit the fair buildings and water cascades with over half a million electric light bulbs and sweeping beams of changing hues.
Food was used in bizarre and exotic ways at the Fair, including the carving of an 18 foot lighthouse built entirely from salt, a salt sculpture of Lot's wife, President Roosevelt sculpted in butter and a statue of a bear made entirely with prunes. Edible items popularized at the Fair include the ice-cream cone, sliced bread, candy floss, peanut butter (a 'health food'), Dr Pepper (a 'health drink') and the hot dog.
A popular explanation of the name 'hot dog' comes from the World's Fair, where amongst the tribes represented in The Philippine Exhibit were the Igorots. Their near nudity, frantic dancing and taste for eating dogs drew huge crowds and it was rumored that the government provided 20 dogs a week for their consumption. The area of Dogtown in modern St. Louis is said to take its name from this period.
The 'world came to St. Louis' in 1904 and exhibits included a German zoo, an Irish village, a Ceylon tea garden, The Land of the Midnight Sun, the streets of Cairo, 'Mysterious Asia' and an extensive reproduction of the Tyrolean Alps, where a paper described 'groups of peasants singing their native songs as they pursue the tack of their daily life'. Roosevelt dined at the St. Louis Inn in the 'Alps', and was entertained by a young lariat-wielding comedian named Will Rogers.
The Fair took six years to build and employed around 200,000 workers. 1,500 buildings sprawled across 1,275 acres of the fairgrounds. There were eight palaces with aisles reaching a total length of 142 miles. Around 52,706 journalists attended 3.5 million publicity events in the first six months of the fair. Nearly 20 million people attended. It cost 15 million dollars to build, the same price paid for the Louisiana Purchase a hundred years before.
The Fair was due to be opened in 1903, the centenary of the Louisiana Purchase, but it ran behind schedule and was delayed until the following year. President Roosevelt opened the fair from Washington, on April 30th 1904 using the same telegraph key with which President Cleveland had opened the Columbian World's Fair in 1893. The President of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company was David R. Francis, a key figure in St. Louis life, socially, politically and in business. After the Fair he was the American Ambassador to Russia from 1916 to 1918.
Of course the Fair was never intended to last forever. The stately structures it comprised were dismantled, and 25 cents was charged for people to watch the demolition. Today, despite the cultural and institutional trappings of a major city, St. Louis is essentially a town of small
neighborhoods. Around the Washington University campus, Forest Park's 1,300 beautifully landscaped acres still hold a number of buildings that date back to the 1904 World's Fair, now housing a fine art museum, a history museum and a science museum.