World’s Fair Stories: Introduction

World's Fair Stories -- Artifacts and images from the Madison County Historical Society


toothpick holder and spoon
Ruby-stained pressed glass 1904 World’s Fair souvenir toothpick holder, MCHS object 1990-054-0002 (left), and silver-plated Louisiana Purchase Exposition souvenir spoon, MCHS object 2006-009-0007 (right).


The toothpick holder shown above is an example of a ruby-stained glass souvenir available for purchase at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. The vender would brush a staining compound of molasses and copper salts onto portions of a clear pressed glass item and then fire it to set the chemical. Items could be personalized on the spot by etching through the stain. The inexpensive technique approximated the look of finer crystal. Ruby-stained souvenirs were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The spoon shown next to the toothpick holder is another fancy-looking Fair souvenir. However, this silver-plated spoon would have been a fairly affordable fairgoer purchase. The bowl of the spoon depicts the Palace of Electricity, one of the exhibit buildings at the Fair. The building housed various machinery demonstrating the generation of electricity and its uses, including electro-therapeutics, electric lighting, and electric cooking.

The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis was officially called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The planners intended to coordinate the expo with the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. However, delays pushed back the Fair’s opening until April 30, 1904. Commemorative items manufactured before the decision to postpone the Fair, like the cigar box shown below, bear a World’s Fair date of 1903.

cigar box
Wooden cigar box commemorating the St. Louis World’s Fair, MCHS object 2005-084-0001.


Many print and online resources detailing World’s Fair history and souvenirs already exist. The four sections of this online exhibition take a different approach. They tell the stories of some Madison County residents who participated in or visited the Fair. Please send your feedback and/or any questions about this exhibition to us at



  • Brooke, Bob. “Looking Through Rose-Colored Glasses.” The Antique Almanac. Accessed September 21, 2017.
  • Official Guide to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at the City of St. Louis, State of Missouri, April 30th to December 1st, 1904. Compiled by M.J. Lowenstein. St. Louis: The Official Guide Co., 1904. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at


More in this exhibition series:

World’s Fair Stories: Introduction — You are here

The Travouses: Fair Commissioner and Hostess

Florence Goes to the Fair

Ethel Pabst’s World’s Fair Adventure

Romance at the Fair