Cool Things - World's Fair Window
"The Louisiana Purchase Exposition is well worth seeing. All big shows are worth seeing, and this one is immense, the biggest thing of the kind ever attempted."
—New York Times, June 20, 1904
In St. Louis, 1904 was a year to celebrate. A hundred years before, the United States had acquired the central portion of the continent from France in the Louisiana Purchase. St. Louisians wanted to show the world that they were a real city, not a lawless cow town. They also wished to display the cultural and economic advancements made in the West since the Purchase. Representatives from each of the fifteen Purchase states agreed, and decided that a World's Fair would be a fitting commemoration. After receiving money from the U.S. Congress, the representatives began planning the seven-month-long event in 1900. When it opened four years later, the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition would allow people to experience parts to the world they had never imagined. Moreover, it would celebrate the people of the West and their survival on the Plains.
Kansas at the Fair
Kansans were equal to St. Louisians in their desire to prove themselves. After 40 years of statehood, Kansans were having great success in agriculture, mining, education, and horticulture. They wanted to show off their progress, and the Fair provided the perfect venue. Fifteen buildings, known as palaces, were devoted to topics such as transportation, fine arts, agriculture, and mining. Kansas entered a huge exhibit in the Palace of Agriculture. It included sculptures of eagles and a steer made entirely of corn, which won a grand prize. In a refrigerated glass case, an artist sculpted butter into a life-sized relief of a woman operating a cream separator. Two hundred livestock entries from Kansas won prizes totaling $313,000.
Most Americans knew of Kansas' farming capabilities, but the citizens of the state wanted to show it was more than wheat and corn. Fair visitors were surprised to see large quantities of coal, salt, lead, and shale from Kansas in the Palace of Mining and Metallurgy. The state's display in the Palace of Horticulture proved that Kansas was one of the best producers of apples and cherries in the nation.
In addition to the exhibit palaces, several states had their own buildings in an area called "The Plateau of States." The architecture of each building was meant to reflect its state's history and culture. Unexpectedly, the buildings became gathering places where people could meet others from their state—homes away from home. Kansas erected a popular building housing smoking and reading rooms for men and a restroom for women, as well as a post office and an emergency hospital. Mothers could leave their children in a nursery while they enjoyed the fair. Musicians entertained the crowds as they examined works by Kansas artists in an art gallery on the second floor.
The window shown here greeted visitors as they entered the Kansas building. It served as the transom over the main entrance. The state seal is painted on glass at the center, surrounded by decorative stained glass. Though the seal depicts the history of Kansas, it also promotes the main theme of the fair—progress. The farmer in the foreground dutifully works the productive soil; a wagon forges westward across the prairie; and the steamboat suggests commerce and transportation. The state motto, Ad astra per aspera (To the stars through difficulties), also describes the changes made in the West since the time of the Louisiana Purchase.
Days after the fair closed on December 1, 1904, the Kansas World's Fair Commissioners donated the window to the Kansas Historical Society. It is part of the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Cool Things - World's Fair Window
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2008
Date Modified: December 2012
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.