German Day at the 1904 World's Fair

6, October 2017

If you were to tell a St. Louisan just after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase that in 100 years a celebration of German heritage would be one of the biggest parties around, you’d likely have been laughed out of town! Back then St. Louis was a largely French city, having just been purchased from France by the United States. Yet German Day at the centennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase—better known as the 1904 World’s Fair—did indeed draw crowds from around the globe. The October 6 event was ultimately the fourth most attended day of the Fair.

Sepia-toned photograph of the German railway exhibit at the 1904 World's FairThe popular German railway exhibit at the 1904 World's Fair. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

From Immigrants to Stand-Out Attractions

The first German immigrants to America landed in Philadelphia on October 6, 1683. Their arrival marked the beginning of a German presence in this country that would only grow with time. By the mid-19th century, many Germans were making their way west and settling in St. Louis. When the 1904 World’s Fair rolled around, the German presence in St. Louis was established and influential, so it’s no surprise Germany had strong representation at the event.

The German Pavilion, a reproduction of King Frederick II’s Charlottenburg castle, was home to myriad German treasures. Germany also had a railway exhibit that displayed how the country’s system of train transportation functioned. The Tyrolean Alps was another impressive German attraction. Located on the Pike, the massive castle-and-mountain structure was also home to one of the Fair’s finest (and biggest) restaurants, Lüchow-Faust.

Sepia-toned photograph of the German Pavilion at the 1904 World's FairThe German Pavilion at the 1904 World's Fair was a replica of Charlottenburg Castle. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

A Look Back at a “Chief Event”

The Fair’s organizers arranged German Day as a way to both showcase German Americans’ excellence and celebrate the friendship between the United States and Germany. A report in the St. Louis Republic described German Day as one of the “chief events of the exposition,” especially for the many German Americans in St. Louis who attended in huge numbers.

Black-and-whtie ad for German Day from the St. Louis RepublicThis ad for German Day festivities appeared in the St. Louis Republic newspaper on October 6, 1904. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Whether German or not, all those who attended the day’s festivities were in for a treat. A group of 300 children performed callisthenic and turner drills, speeches were given at the German Pavilion, and the famous Berlin Band played on and off throughout the day. Baron Speck von Sternburg, the German ambassador to the United States, even read a cablegram from Emperor Wilhelm II. The message congratulated St. Louisans on the celebration and acknowledged the “important part played by German immigration in the wonderful development of the great transatlantic Republic.”

Sepia-toned photograph of German representatives at German Day at the 1904 World's FairSeveral Germans attended the German Day celebration at the 1904 World's Fair. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

At the closing ceremony, many well-known Germans from St. Louis gave toasts to everything from the first German immigrants to the World’s Fair, tracing the legacy of their people in the United States. Today, in 2017, it’s a joy to look back and see the excitement surrounding a celebration of that fateful day, more than 300 years ago, when the first Germans landed in America.

—Allison Segura, Summer 2017 Intern, Missouri History Museum Library

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