Friday, March 9, 2012

Eat Me in St. Louis

Following the Paris Olympics in 1900, the International Olympic Committee elected to have the next set of games in Chicago, Illinois. However, the organizers of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair - officially called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in commemoration of its 100 year anniversary - refused to allow another international show so close in time and geography to their own. After threatening to launch their own set of games, the IOC capitulated and relocated the 1904 Olympics to St. Louis, agreeing to have them held during the Fair.

The Olympic games - poorly run, underemphasized, and featuring almost exclusively American athletes - were quickly eclipsed by the Fair itself. The spectacle ran for seven months, and featured hundreds of demonstrations of technology, corporations, and entertainment. Geronimo was on display; Will Rogers performed at a Wild West show; Helen Keller lectured; John Philips Sousa performed at the opening ceremonies. More than 20 million people attended.

The World's Fair is now perhaps most remembered for the displays of food. The Palace of Agriculture was 640,000 square feet in size and 8 stories tall, filled with displays of food from all over the world. Visitors there could see a 17,000 gallon cask of Champagne, lemons weighing 7 pounds each, statues carved of butter, and a larger-than-life-sized elephant made entirely of nuts. H.J. Heinz and Joseph Schlitz, each aware of the food-safety concerns of the day, promoted their new systems of germ-safe bottling to much acclaim. When President Roosevelt and his family visited, they were treated to a two-hour banquet serving Columbian soup, Oyster Bay salad, celery, radishes, grapes, almonds, a Salmon soufflé, Julienne potatoes, beef medallions, risotto (with truffles), and a quail, all washed down by various German beers and wines, with glazed biscuits, coffee, and cigars for dessert.

Several popular types of modern food debuted or were popularized thanks to their appearance in St. Louis in 1904. Cotton candy was at the time called 'fairy floss'. Hamburgers and hot dogs achieved national status there, as did peanut butter, iced tea, chili, and ice cream cones. The Fair was also the coming-out party of a fruit-flavored soda invented at a pharmacy in Waco, Texas, called Dr. Pepper, which promoted itself as the "King of Beverages" and promised "Vim, Vigor and Vitality" on the label.

Links and Sources:
Wikipedia entries on the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and The 1904 Olympics.
"Special Foods of St. Louis" at St. Louis Places to See, retrieved March 9, 2012.
"Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, 1904", at the University of Delaware Library, retrieved March 9, 2012.
"History of Dr. Pepper", at the Dr. Pepper Museum, retrieved March 9, 2012.
"Food Stuff; at the 1904 World's Fair, Cotton Candy and Cottolene", by Florence Fabricant for the New York Times, June 16, 2004.
"Meet Me in the Jungle, Louis: Promoting Pure Food at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair", by Dr. Marsha E. Ackermann for Repast, the Quarterly Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor, Vol. XX, Number 3, Summer 2004.
Beyond the Ice Cream Cone: The Whole Scoop on Food at the 1904 World's Fair, by Pamela J. Vaccaro, Enid Press, 2004.
Photo of street scene courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Photo of vehicles courtesy of the Hulton Archive / Getty Images.
I'm so sorry about the title. I simply couldn't resist.

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