World’s Fair Stories: Introduction

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.

The Madison County Historical Society recently received the rare souvenir “book” shown below: St. Louis Exposition in a Nutshell. The tiny synopsis of the Fair tucked into an actual walnut shell was donated by the original owner’s daughter. Clara Schulze (later Clara Sickbert) was thirteen years old when her grandfather Ernst Schulze took her to the Fair. Ernst immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1867 with his wife and young son Fredrich (Clara’s father). He quickly settled in Edwardsville, Illinois, and worked as a tailor. By the time he and Clara went to the World’s Fair, Ernst was in his late sixties.

St. Louis Exposition in a Nutshell
Souvenir “book” titled St. Louis Exposition in a Nutshell, copyright by L.I. Silverman, April 16th, 1904. MCHS object 2018-004-0001.
St. Louis Exposition in a Nutshell pages
Some pages of St. Louis Exposition in a Nutshell. Originally composed of 44 halftone prints depicting exposition palaces, state buildings, and other exposition architecture. Some images were accompanied by adjacent text pages summarizing the structure’s architecture, size, cost, and architect. The pages were all attached and folded accordion-style into a walnut shell. The example in the Madison County Historical Society collection includes 34 surviving images. MCHS object 2018-004-0001.

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, written and designed by Mary Z. Rose, Assistant Curator at the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library, to

United States census records and the Alton Evening Telegraph newspaper were consulted for this article. Additional sources:

  • Brooke, Bob. “Looking Through Rose-Colored Glasses.” The Antique Almanac. Accessed September 21, 2017.
  • Edwardsville Intelligencer, “City Officers and Council Members,” December 17, 1895 (Industrial issue).
  • 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