Are you taking the Science on Display or Exhibiting the Global class this semester? If yes, please check out the World’s Fair collection in our Special Collections. We have been actively building this collection to support our faculty and students’ research and teaching interests. Why are these materials important?

The World’s Fair collection is interdisciplinary in nature and is of interest to faculty and students in Art History, Architecture, History of Science and Technology, English, Area Studies, etc. The historical world’s fairs offered a great opportunity for the western countries to display their imperial power, industrial progress, wealth, the development of science and technology, and the superiority of the western civilization. Apart from these reasons, others goals included the cultivation of national identity, promotion of local and foreign merchandise as well as an attempt to educate the ordinary citizens about other countries. One of the important international exhibitions held in the United States was the St. Louis World’s Fair or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. This Fair was held to commemorate the centenary of the purchase of Louisiana in 1803. Although the Exposition was scheduled to commence in April 1903, it was inaugurated on April 30th, 1904. The Fair ended on December 1st, 1904. All told approximately 20 million people visited the Fair, and nearly 1,500 buildings were constructed to stage the various exhibits.

Similar to Midway Plaisance of the Columbian Exposition, the Pike was the chief source of entertainment for the visitors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. It offered them a chance to take a fantasy tour throughout the world. People from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. were displayed to advance the western discourse of civilization. All these exhibits provided the ordinary people a chance to learn about other cultures. More than sixty foreign nations participated in the Fair. Like to see what kind of programs people watched for entertainment? See for yourself, below.

Besides our library resources, there are several freely available online resources that you can use for your research. The Missouri History Museum has an excellent collection of images from the Exposition. You can also view a selection of their images on Flickr Commons. Other resources include the online exhibition from the Missouri Historical Society and the bibliography of the Fair from the Smithsonian.  If you would like to experience the World’s Fair of 1904, check out this virtual tour.


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