This exhibition was intended to commemorate the centenary of the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon I for 15 million dollars.
It was not until June 7, 1896, when the Governor of Missouri, David R. Francis, intervened in favour of such an event that the idea really took shape.
On January 23, 1898, following the support of Central Trade and Labour of St. Louis, the support of the federal government was not long in coming.
On 20 August 1901, President McKinley invited all nations to come and participate in the event. As for the financing itself, this was provided by Congress and the federal states.
Theoretically, the date of the exhibition was set for 1903, but as interest in the event was lukewarm in foreign countries and the festival was to surpass previous ones, David R. Francis delayed the event.
David R. Francis delayed the opening for a year, which allowed him to make a promotional trip to motivate foreign nations to participate.
This third American World's Fair was intended to educate the "ideal citizen", so the place of education in the fair was given priority.
On June 21, 1901, it was decided to locate this exhibition in "Forest Park" which was located 10 km west of Saint Louis. The work spared no inch of the park, all the trees were uprooted, an artificial lake appeared in place of the natural lake and even the hill was razed.
The total area of 500 hectares of land exceeded anything that had been done before.
This area was divided into 5 zones characterised by different architectural types:
- exhibition halls
- American pavilions
- foreign pavilions
- agriculture and horticulture
- the amusement park
The architects Skiff and Masqueray built exhibition halls in the neoclassical style and carried out the construction with the help of huge scaffolding covered with wood and, above all, plaster. These large white buildings were arranged around a festival hall and connected by wide boulevards. The festival hall dominated the whole and especially the large pool. This rotunda, whose dome was larger than that of St Peter's in Rome, could accommodate up to 3,500 people. As for the large basin, 180 metres in diameter, it was composed of 3 cascades and multiple fountains with a total flow rate of 170 m3 per minute.
As for the national pavilions, no creativity was really achieved because most of the time they were reproductions of monuments such as Chinese temples, Italian villas, etc.
The amusement park called "the Pike" extended from the main entrance to the administrative buildings, all of which was one mile long. The park offered visitors a "world tour" starting with the Tyrolean Alps, followed by an Eskimo village and an Egyptian bazaar....
The inauguration took place on 30 April 1904 in front of 200,000 visitors. Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, turned a gold telegraph key from the White House in Washington, D.C. This signalled the opening of the exhibition and the inauguration ceremony could begin.
The exhibition ended on 1 December 1904, having attracted 20 million visitors. The buildings were all dismantled in 1905, with the exception of the Palace of Arts and the aviaries.
The 3rd Olympic Games were held at the University of Washington Stadium in the northwestern part of the exhibition grounds, starting on 14 May 1904 and lasting 6 months. These Olympic Games also contributed to the success of the World's Fair.