The Fair's Fare

The early 1900s were grand years for food. Campbell’s Pork and Beans was introduced by the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Co. The Campbell Kids cartoon characters were an immediate marketing hit. The R.T. French Co. debuted French’s Cream Salad Mustard. Pepsi-Cola was trademarked. A German exporter invented decaffeinated coffee and called it Sanka. Tuna was first packed in cans. Ironically, green tea was outselling black tea five to one in the United States.

And in other news, let’s see, a little fair was about to get its start. On April 30, 1903, former President Grover Cleveland was in St. Louis to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. Cleveland’s other mission was to dedicate the buildings and grounds for the St. Louis World’s Fair, an international event that would open one year to the day later.


In 1904, St. Louis was this nation’s fourth largest city, and her historical significance was about to earn international recognition. St. Louis had been the seat of both the French and Spanish governments of the Louisiana Territory and was the actual site of the transfer of the territory. The St. Louis World’s Fair, also known as the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the United States, which had occurred in 1804. The boundaries of the fair’s grounds comprised the western half of Forest Park, Debalivere on the east, Big Bend Boulevard on the west, the Wabash tracks on the north and Oakland Avenue on the south. It was rectangular in shape and encompassed 1,240 acres.

The fair was a gateway into the new century, a showcase of world progress. Its major theme was to show how industrialized nations like the United States had the responsibility of spreading the products and technology of a civilized life around the world. Andrew Walker, director of museum collections for the Missouri Historical Society, said, “Many aspects of a new age and our own modern-day life emerged at the 1904 World’s Fair. Consumer consumption, shopping and the availability of things to buy became codified. … And the fair brought with it a sense of community that had never been felt before.”

St. Louis was the proud host of the exposition from April 30 to Dec. 1, 1904, but our fair city also scored two other major events in 1904: the Olympics and the National Democratic Convention, either one of which would have been a major coup for a modern day visitors’ and convention bureau. Twelve countries competed at the Olympics. The United States took home 80 gold medals and the athletes were made up of 681 males and only seven females. At the Democratic Convention, Alton B. Parker of New York was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate and Henry G. Davis was selected as Parker’s running mate.


According to the daily World’s Fair Bulletin, some of the “swellest” restaurants were at the fair. The total number of 19,695,855 fair-goers (about 100,000 per day) could choose from over 125 eateries, ranging between high-class restaurants, fast-food lunch pagodas, moderate lunchrooms and “quick-meal” restaurants. There were serious 15-course restaurants, restaurants that sat upwards of 2,000 customers and novelty restaurants. During that time, a typical restaurant menu or catered meal might include cantaloupe, clear green turtle soup, filet of sea bass meunière, saddle of spring lamb jardinière, asparagus hollandaise, Roman punch, golden plover (hearts of palm salad), ice cream, camembert and coffee. But at the fair, one could breakfast in France, take a mid-morning snack in the Philippines, lunch in Italy and dine in Japan.

The Lüchow-Faust World’s Fair Restaurant at the Tyrolean Alps was the largest restaurant, featuring a menu that listed two dozen entrees, 27 vegetables, a dozen fruits and compotes and 11 desserts. It was operated by St. Louis’ own legendary restaurateur Tony Faust, along with New York’s first family of restaurateurs, the Lüchows. Mrs. Harriet S. MacMurphy of Omaha, opened a restaurant that catered to “dyspeptics.” MacMurphy offered little meat on her menu, instead featuring fruits, vegetables, salads and baked apples. She chided Americans for “being too fond of pastry” and none was to be found on her menu.

There was a restaurant across from the birdcage in Forest Park where customers could dine al fresco and do a little bird watching. At one dining establishment, waiters were dressed as coal miners and customers were taken down to their tables in a simulated coal mine. A restaurant was built in conjunction with a farm so that diners could actually pick out the live chicken they wanted to have prepared (yep, that included butchering!) for their fried chicken dinner. One hundred soda fountains were sprinkled throughout, pickles were popular and cotton candy was known as “fairy floss.” Water was a sought-after commodity. The purity of any metropolitan city water was not trusted at the time, so spray squirts of cold water were sold and the spectators walked the grounds carrying bottled water. While it was certainly possible to spend lots of money on food, it was also possible to get a “free lunch.” The Agriculture and Horticultural buildings offered free food throughout the day, except from noon to 2 p.m., when they would have been competing with restaurants.

It was also at the fair that the hamburger sandwich gained popularity – it was fried and sold by German immigrants living in South St. Louis. Ice cream cones were also offered; however, an ice cream cone mold patent had been issued the year before to an Italian-born New York pushcart vendor. Peanut butter was introduced as a health food for the elderly and puffed rice was sold as a popcorn-like snack. Dr. Pepper made its debut as a “health drink,” and, by some accounts, iced tea was created. Swans Down Cake Flour won the grand prize and Poland Spring water won top honors as the “best spring water in the country.” Pure Food Law advocates even set up a booth to dramatize the fact that U.S. foods were being colored with potentially harmful dyes, since in North Dakota, it was found that more than 90 percent of the local meat markets were using chemical preservatives, 70 percent of cocoas and chocolates had been adulterated, and many canned products were found to have been bleached by sulfites.

Pamela J. Vaccaro, author of “Beyond The Ice Cream Cone,” spoke of the fair as one huge trade show. “It was a perfect time in history. Companies were vying for a national market. It was the place to be if you were a Ralston Purina, Anheuser-Busch, Welch’s Grape Juice, Campbell’s Soup, Pillsbury, Wesson Oil.” Marketing campaigns paid off as the fair proved big for media coverage with 52,706 journalists covering daily activities throughout its six-month run.

Where did everyone stay? Well, Downtown hotels like the Jefferson, St. Nicholas, Planter’s and Lindell were about 40 minutes from the fairgrounds. The Planter’s Hotel had been the largest in town until the Hotel Jefferson opened in 1904 to host the fair. The Buckingham Club at Kingshighway and Pine, the Washington Hotel and the Epworth Hotel also were built to house visitors to the fair. The Inside Inn, located on the southeast corner of the fair near Oakland Avenue, was the only hotel inside the fairgrounds. Ads touted the benefits of the inn’s 2,300 rooms and suites – “shade, breezes and temperatures 10 degrees cooler than Downtown.”


Though the 1904 World’s Fair was an international event, about 40 percent of fair-goers were local residents. Hearing of the throngs of people that were due to invade their city, and concluding that the fair would be tacky and noisy, some of the “upper crust” of St. Louis society left town altogether for destinations like Bar Harbor, renting out their homes to visiting dignitaries in the process.

For those who stayed, April 30 to Dec. 1 was night after night of parties. Small fortunes were spent on foreign delegation soirees like those of France and Mexico. Over 1,600 bottles of Champagne were consumed at a private affair given by the Germans. Private rail cars bustled into town carrying the well-to-do. Houseboats with teak decks and mahogany rails docked along the riverfront. There was plenty of action on the dining and hotel scene in St. Louis. Fresh oysters were being shipped by steam locomotive from New Orleans to Tony Faust’s Oyster House and to the Planter’s Hotel, both located Downtown. Faust’s was the place where beer barons and celebrities dined and, in fact, Faust’s in the Adam’s Mark takes its name from the legendary restaurateur.

If you were living in St. Louis in 1904, or coming in by rail, water or roadway, there was plenty to do without ever stepping inside the fairgrounds. From Downtown and Soulard to The Hill and Webster Groves on out to Clayton and Hermann in Missouri’s wine country, one could experience the tastes and smells of the region. A horse-drawn carriage might introduce a visitor to some of the local landmarks of the day … Caesar’s Café, The American Restaurant and McTague’s Shell Fish House & Grill Room were taking care of business Downtown … Anheuser-Busch was the largest brewer, and the Lemp Brewing Company was responsible for introducing the light, clear German lager to St. Louis and supplying “World’s Fair Beer”... A couple of unique dining spots had arrived on the scene, one that featured the kitchen in front of the dining room, another that offered no waiters, counters or tables, just self-service all the way and customers seated themselves in chairs with wide arms … Sportsman’s Park was the home of the St. Louis Browns … A trip to the Frontier Trading Post, a Downtown market, would bring a variety of imported foods, liquors and delicacies for the “discriminating shopper”… Bayle’s Tasco Sauce was hot, “the best, ask the oyster.”

In 1894, restaurateur Fred Harvey opened the first of his many railway restaurants at St. Louis’ Union Station. The food and service were so acclaimed that even local residents went to Harvey’s restaurant at the station to dine. The famed “Harvey Girls” waited on servicemen and travelers during World War II … Beffa Bros., a great place for a beer and sandwich, where Attilio Beffa and Tony Faust might be drinking at the bar … The C.F. Blanke Tea & Coffee Company was a leading producer of roasted coffee and supplier of an “Exposition Blend” for the fair … The Pelican Restaurant, built in 1895 for local brewer Anton Griesedieck, billed itself as a “first-class restaurant and liquortorium”… Freund Bros. Bread Company trucks were delivering their famed Bohemian rye bread all over the city … Cook’s Champagne Extra Dry was the top of the line at the American Wine Company … Revelers waltzed at some of the many neighborhood outdoor beer gardens like Schnaider’s and Weider’s.

Bargaining for fresh fruits, vegetables and live chickens (35 cents each) was already a Saturday morning tradition at Soulard Farmers’ Market, but since the building had been destroyed by a tornado in 1896, vendors were hawking their wares from wagons … V. Viviano & Bros. Marconi were in the pasta manufacturing business … When the O’Connor brothers saw imported coffee beans roasted over a gas flame at the fair, they created a coffee to replicate that same intensity and aroma, favored by area hotels (the company exists today as Ronnoco) … The Hill was well established with Italian immigrants and the neighborhood’s famed one-story, four-room brick homes were already making their appearance … Bardenheier was one of the largest wineries in St. Louis … Dinner at Busch’s Grove would begin with a garlicky Bellevue salad, followed by prime rib with cottage fries … Joe Fazio’s Bakery was making freshly baked bread … Residents of Webster Groves were shopping at a new market called Straub’s, a store that specialized in meat and “unusual and better products”… In 1837, German wine-making immigrants discovered the Missouri Rhineland and by the turn of the century, over 100 wineries in and around Hermann – Stone Hill, Adam Puchta and Hermannhof included – were producing millions of gallons of wine.

And, back then, the price was right: “Those were the days,” when just pennies could buy lobster Newburg for 75 cents, stewed lamb with vegetables for 40 cents, a caviar sandwich for 25 cents, a club sandwich for 35 cents, omelets for 50 cents, filet mignon for $1, châteaubriand for $3, a porterhouse steak for $1.50, tea with cream for 15 cents per pot, Louis Roederer Brut Champagne for $6 per quart, bottled beer for 40 cents and liquor for 5 cents a glassful. But, then again, don’t start licking your chops yet. The conversion rate between 1904 and 2004 prices makes 50 cents equal to about $10.

So is anything left of the 1904 World’s Fair?

Some buildings, memorabilia, a couple of restaurants and businesses and many, many memories. In scanning the telephone book for World’s Fair-related listings, World’s Fair Donuts jumped off the page. So, I asked, “Is your recipe from the 1904 World’s Fair?” The reply came back, “No, our address is 1904 Vandeventer. The street number is our only connection with the fair.” Even after 100 years, the romance, excitement, sophistication and creativity of the 1904 World’s Fair is still a draw.