1904 Louisiana Purchase
Exposition Issue

MiniatureArtWorksUSA.com 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Issue

Stamp Collecting: 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Issue

1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Issue

The United States was well into the Progressive Era (about 1890s-1920s) by 1904. The nation was led by Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, the youngest man to ever become President of the United States. He was a Spanish-American war hero who had written books about his exciting adventures in the wild West. He was full of energy and optimism and is regarded as the first modern President. In a time when 1% of the people owned 99% of the wealth, Roosevelt said that every American deserved a "square deal" - a chance to succeed.

Thousands upon thousands of immigrants arrived in the United States every day. They came from all over the world-especially from Asia and Europe.

Women still couldn't vote in the United States. The suffragettes were women who fought for the right to vote and often got arrested for their efforts. Women wouldn't win the right to vote in the United States until 1920 by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, although some individual U.S. states and territories had granted suffrage long before that.

Many inventions we take for granted were still a rarity. The first airplane flight took place in 1903, but it would be many years before airplanes were common. Automobiles were still a newfangled invention, and not many people had them. But telephones, indoor plumbing, central heating, vacuum cleaners, radios, and movies were all coming soon. The first "real" movie (one that followed a story), The Great Train Robbery, had appeared in 1903. It was only 12 minutes long!

Most children had only homemade toys. Music was important to Americans of all ages. Since there was no radio to be turned on, people played the songs themselves. Almost every household had a musical instrument of some kind. Books were important, too. Some great classics were published in or around 1904: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for youngsters, Call of the Wild and The Virginian for adults.

It was very hard to be poor in 1904. There were a few very rich people, but many more lived in poverty. Children from poor families often had to go to work instead of school at age 7 or 8. Six million children under the age of 16 were working, often in difficult and dangerous jobs in factories, mines and mills, sweatshops and worse for 8 - 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Child labor was not banned in the United States until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Keating-Owen Act making it illegal to buy or sell items produced by child labor.


-Average life expectancy was 47 years.
-Only 14% of homes had a bathtub.
-Only 8% of homes had a telephone.
-8,000 autos were owned but only 144 miles of paved roads existed.
-More than 95% of births took place at home.
-90% of physicians had no college education.
-The average woman washed her hair once a month using borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
-Leading causes of death were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease, and stroke.


-January 12 - Henry Ford sets a new automobile land speed record of 91.37 m.p.h.

-February 7 - The Great Baltimore Fire in Maryland destroys more than 1,500 buildings in 30 hours.

-February 23 - For a $10 million down payment, the United States gains control of the Panama Canal Zone.

-April 30 - The Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair opens in St. Louis, Missouri (and closes December 1).

-May 4 -U.S. Army engineers begin work on The Panama Canal.

-May 5 - Pitching against the Philadelphia Athletics, Cy Young of the Boston Americans throws the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball.

-June 15 - A fire aboard the steamboat General Slocum in New York City's East River kills 1,021.

-July 1 - The third modern Olympic Games opens in St. Louis, Missouri, as part of the World's Fair.

-July 23 - In St. Louis, the ice cream cone is popularized during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

-October 27 - The first underground line of the New York City Subway opens.

-November 8 - Republican incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt defeats Democrat Alton B. Parker.

-December 31 - In New York City, the New Year's Eve celebration is held in Times Square for the first time.


By many accounts, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition was the most beautiful, educational and exciting of all the World's Fairs ever presented. The world was at peace and technology promised a future beyond all imagination. More than 60 nations and 43 states brought their treasures and their civilizations to St. Louis to demonstrate humanity's advancements and celebrate American westward expansion since the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

Built on some 1,200 acres in the heart of the city, it was the largest fair (in terms of area) ever held. With its immense architecture, broad boulevards, curved bridges and landscaped water vistas, the beauty of the Expo was unmatched. For seven months in 1904, the city of St. Louis became the "World's University." The Fair offered an opportunity to learn first-hand about the wonders and the cultures far removed from their everyday lives.

Cities at the turn of the century were expanding quickly, but not always in a structured, logical manner. The Fair was designed to demonstrate a model urban community of the future. The layout of this miniature city was carefully planned into different zones, each with a specific purpose. The Fair had unending educational opportunities, little-to-no crime and an almost constant state of celebration. It truly became an ideal, utopian society.

A great deal of the Fair's success was due to the extensive planning. The Exposition Company was created to coordinate the preparations, but the entire population of St. Louis worked toward the great event. Arrangements were made for transportation, sanitation, fire protection and security. Hotels, restaurants, services and supplies for millions of additional people were needed. The incredible physical effort of erecting the buildings, carving the lagoons and building the roads, sewers and power plants is a marvel in itself. A virtual tour of the Exposition can be made by accessing this link.

Originally the Fair was to open April 30, 1903, the actual 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase treaty. However, as the scope of the Exposition blossomed, it became clear that everything could not be completed by the scheduled date. Since the goal of the Exposition Company was to include everything possible, the officials decided to put off the opening date for one year. After three years of concentrated work, everything was finally finished.

The Palaces comprised five million square feet of exhibit space. The Agriculture Palace alone covered 23 acres. Just one of the medium sized Palaces required 95,000 square feet of glass, 600 windows and doors, 450 tons of steel, and seven million feet of lumber. Since they were of temporary construction, the buildings were covered with 800,000 square feet of "staff", a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fiber.The Exposition Company divided and displayed humanity's advancements into twelve major classifications, such as Transportation, Art, Anthropology and Education. These main exhibits were housed in the Palaces. The ornately detailed show-places, with their massive columns and spired towers, were gargantuan and beautiful almost beyond description. Electric light, a recent innovation, was used lavishly both for illumination and decoration.

Education was the keynote of the Fair and it was incorporated in all aspects of the exhibits with presentations both innovative and organized. Within the separate Palaces, the exhibits were arranged to show the process of how things were made, not just the items themselves. For example, one could watch the rope maker, the blacksmith or the farmer actually at work, and then see the results of his or her labor. There was even a model school, where the latest educational methods were demonstrated. The vast wealth of knowledge and experience shared at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition is still available in the Official Guide.

It was impossible to see all of the Fair in less than a week, or study it with any care in less than a month. There were more than 1,500 separate buildings on 75 miles of walks and roadways. Each country, state and territory had its own building. There was a U. S. Government building, a bank, a hospital, a press building and more. There were seven churches, each one a replica of a famous place of worship. The official hotel on the fairgrounds was the Inside Inn, which had 2,257 rooms. More than 36,000 people could be hosted simultaneously throughout the Fair, and one large restaurant had seating for 4,800.

1904-olympic-officials-badge-2The 1904 Summer Olympic Games were held during the Exposition. Francis Field, which had the first concrete stadium in the United States, was the most modern in the world at that period and hosted many of the games. With so many other events going on, the Olympics took a minor role. The medals earned during the Fair have since become very collectible as there were so few earned.

The Fair visitor may have chosen to visit the walled city of Jerusalem, a Japanese tea garden or a Chinese temple. There was a gigantic floral clock with hands 100 feet across, a sunken garden and the actual log cabin where Abraham Lincoln lived as a child. One could travel over the lovely lagoons in a modern motor launch or in a gaily decorated gondola. One could hire an automobile, a wheeled chair, an Irish jaunting car or ride a camel, a turtle or an elephant.

St. Louis, well known as a musical city, paid special attention to planning music of every variety. There were daily organ concerts in Festival Hall. The official Exposition Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of internationally famous conductors, performed popular concerts in the Tyrolean Alps area. A choral group of nearly 3,000 sang for special occasions. Every section of the fairgrounds featured outdoor concerts with music from a variety of internationally famous bands. John Philip Sousa's celebrated group was an Exposition favorite.

There were almost daily celebrations, parades and special events. A designated committee made sure something was always going on. Some of the activities included President's Week, Flower Show Week and College Week. There were weeks honoring specific states, and 32 different cities celebrated special days. There was even an official Anti-Cigarette Day!

The Pike was a mile-long midway featuring rides, amusements and fantastic attractions. It was the headquarters for fun and adventure. The Pike was primarily a source of pleasure, but many of its features educated as they entertained. The old expression, "coming down the Pike" originated at the Fair, as you never knew what you would see next.

By day the Pike was an excited crowd of children, souvenir hunters, acrobats and clowns. By night it became a milling mob of pleasure seekers. Fifty different shows could be seen in the Pike's theaters. Here one could see the forms of entertainment popular in different parts of the world, and the people came out to play. Belly dancing fast became a favorite of many fairgoers. Visitors could scale the Tyrolean Alps, visit Blarney Castle or take in a Parisian fashion show. One could go deep sea diving, ride a burro to cliff dwellings or experience the "Hereafter." An afternoon's activities might have included stalking wild animals, exploring the North Pole or walking in the streets of ancient Rome. In the Naval Battle of Santiago, model ships staged war on a miniature lake. The food choices were just as diverse, and the Pike is purported to be the birthplace of the ice cream cone.

When the Exposition Company made the initial contracts to plan the Exposition, they promised to restore the grounds to a public park when the event was concluded. When it was all over, most of the tremendous buildings were dismantled and the wonderful fountains and cascades were demolished. Archaeologists are currently studying the immense landfills where the debris from the Fair was buried.

The times had been right for the coming together of people, but much of the credit should go to the people of St. Louis. They had indeed built a fair so comprehensive, so perfectly planned, that had some disaster wiped out every culture from the face of the Earth, it all could have been reconstructed from the materials on hand.

Exciting sights and sounds at the Exposition

  • While it is unknown if any of these foods were actually invented at or for the Expo (as many claim), they certainly were popularized and, perhaps, first exposed to a national audience: the ice cream cone, the hamburger and hot dog, peanut butter, iced tea, Dr. Pepper, Puffed Wheat and cotton candy.
  • The Exposition's influence on popular music: the Fair inspired the song "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis", which was recorded by many artists, as well as the 1944 feature film Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland. Scott Joplin wrote the rag tune "Cascades" in honor of the elaborate waterfalls in front of Festival Hall.
  • Americans were still fascinated by infants in incubators.
  • Notable visitors (or performers/exhibitors): President Theodore Roosevelt; Thomas Edison; Helen Keller; the former Apache war chief, Geronimo; the poet T.S. Eliot; Jack Daniel, Tennessee whiskey distiller; bandleader John Philip Sousa.
  • The Ferris Wheel from the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago was dismantled and shipped to St. Louis for the thrill of fairgoers once again.
  • New (or new to the general public) inventions unveiled: primitive versions of fax machines, wireless telephones, electric typewriters and the telephone answering machine; the airplane; the electrical plug and wall outlet.


Thomas Jefferson was an American founding father, the main author of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's third president. His plans for the U.S. depended on western expansion and access to international markets for American farm products. This vision was threatened, however, when France gained control of Louisiana. Napoleon Bonaparte, who had risen to power in the French Revolution, threatened to block American access to the important port of New Orleans on the Mississippi River. New American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains depended on river transport to get their goods to market since overland trade to the east was expensive and impractical.

Blocking access to New Orleans was such a grave threat to American interests that President Jefferson considered changing his foreign policy stance to an anti-French alliance with the British - this would have been quite an about-face for him. At the same time that he sent diplomats to France to bargain for continued trade access along the Mississippi, he also sent diplomats to Britain to pursue other policy options. James Monroe, also a founding father and who would become the fifth U. S. president, was negotiating in Paris for the U.S. He was authorized to purchase New Orleans and West Florida for between $2 - 10 million.

Robert Livingston, a New York political leader of the Revolutionary era was best known for serving on the five-man committee (alongside Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman) designated by the Second Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. When Jefferson became president in 1801, he chose Livingston to serve as his ambassador to France. In that capacity, Livingston helped to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Authorized only to make an offer to buy the port of New Orleans, Livingston instead purchased the entire vast Louisiana Territory.

The deal was struck in April 1803, but it brought a good deal of controversy. While American development in the 19th century depended on western expansion, it also raised controversial issues that might lead to the unraveling of the United States. Some New England Federalists, for example, began to talk of seceding from the U.S. since their political power was dramatically reduced by the Purchase. No longer would they represent such a large proportion of the U.S. which had just vastly expanded.

Further, Jefferson had clearly not followed his own strict interpretation of the Constitution. Federalist critics howled that the Constitution nowhere permitted the federal government to purchase new land. Jefferson was troubled by his own inconsistency, but decided that the Constitution's treaty-making provisions allowed him room to act.

Most of the Senate agreed and the Louisiana Purchase easily passed 26 to 6. The dramatic expansion also contradicted Jefferson's commitment to reduce the national debt as swiftly as possible. Although $15 million was a relatively small sum for such a large amount of land, it was still an enormous price tag for the modest federal budget of the day.

The Louisiana Purchase demonstrates Jefferson's ability to make practical political decisions. Although contrary to some of his central principles, guaranteeing western expansion was so important to Jefferson's overall vision that he took bold action. The gains were dramatic, as the territory acquired would, in time, add 13 new states to the union. In 1812, Louisiana became the first state to join the union from land bought in the Purchase. Louisiana was allowed to enter the United States with its French legal traditions largely in place. Even today, Louisiana's legal code retains many elements that do not follow English common law traditions. The events surrounding the Louisiana Purchase proved the federal system could be remarkably flexible!

The Louisiana Purchase wasn't just the largest real estate deal in U.S. history. The new territory also forever altered the way America saw itself. Historians Robert E. Wright and David Cowen wrote: "Overnight, the upstart nation acquired land physically larger than France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, and the British Isles combined." It was an acquisition that effectively doubled the nation's size and greatly increased its future weight in world affairs. In the difficult days of 1803, the Jefferson Administration and its envoys in Paris had to think and act quickly in order to consummate the deal - seeking primarily to insure Americans' transportation access to the Gulf of Mexico by securing the rivers that emptied into that sea. Napoleon Bonaparte also had to act quickly because he needed the money.


In conjunction with the Exposition, the U.S. Post Office Department issued a series of five commemorative stamps celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. They went on sale on the Fair's opening day, April 30, 1904. Each stamp is inscribed "Commemorative Series of 1904". The 1¢ value portrays Robert Livingston, the U.S. ambassador who negotiated the Purchase with France; the 2¢ value depicts President Thomas Jefferson, who authorized the Purchase; the 3¢ honors James Monroe, Secretary of State, who participated in negotiations with the French; the 5¢ memorializes President William McKinley, who was involved with early plans for the Exposition and was assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901; and the 10¢ depicts a map of the Louisiana Purchase, the first time a map appeared on an American stamp.

1¢ Stamp: Robert Livingston

The 1¢ stamp features an image of Robert Livingston. Born in 1746, Livingston served as a delegate from New York to the Continental Congress and to the Continental Constitution. He administered the oath of office to President George Washington in 1789. After Thomas Jefferson's election to the presidency in 1800, Livingston was appointed Minister to France and his efforts there culminated with the U. S. purchase of the Louisiana Territory. He died in 1813.

The 1¢ stamp paid the card rate and was also used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination postal rates. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing made nearly 8 million of the Livingston stamps.

2¢ Stamp: Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson, architect of the Louisiana Purchase, is depicted on the 2¢ stamp. This stamp paid the domestic first-class rate for postage. The stamp was also used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination postal rates. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced more than 192 million of the Jefferson stamps.

3¢ Stamp: James Monroe

The 3¢ Louisiana Purchase marked the first appearance of James Monroe on a postage stamp. Monroe would go on to become the fifth President of the United States and served in that capacity from 1817 - 1825. At Jefferson's direction, Monroe helped to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, a mission for which he has received little credit. His portrait on the stamp honors his significant contribution to our nation's expansion.

The 3¢ stamp covered no particular postal rate of 1904, but was used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination postal rates. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced more than 4.5 million of the Monroe stamps.

5¢ Stamp: William McKinley

The Post Office Department featured President William McKinley on the 5¢ stamp because it was McKinley who signed the Bill committing the United States to stage the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. An assassin's bullet had taken McKinley's life at another World's Fair (the Pan-American Expostion) only three years previously, in 1901.

The 5¢ stamp was most frequently used for the single-weight Universal Postal Union International rate or was used in combination with other stamps to fulfill large weight and destination postal rates. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing released nearly 7 million of the McKinley stamps.

10¢ Stamp: Map of the Louisiana Purchase

The 10¢ stamp features a map of the United States, with the new Louisiana Purchase lands outlined - a very fitting highlight on this set of beautiful commemorative stamps.

Ten cent stamps paid the domestic registered mail fee plus the domestic first class rate or double the Universal Postal Union rate. Purchasers also used this stamp in combination with others to fulfill large weight and destination postal rates. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing made just over 4 million of the Map stamps.

As with prior commemorative stamp issues, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Issue were available for purchase in Post Offices only for the seven month run of the Fair. Printing technology had improved and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was producing more and more beautiful stamps with each new set.

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