The city of St. Louis has enjoyed a rich and colorful history ever since it was established as a fur trading post in 1764. It has experienced its fair share of turmoil, but seasons of growth and rebirth have always followed close behind. With a population of over 300,000 people, St. Louis has become a center for art, diversity, industry, and innovation.
Over the span of 250 years, a lot of changes have taken place. Fires and floods have brought destruction, lavish celebrations have been thrown, influencers have cultivated culture, and a variety of landmarks have sprung up to attract locals and visitors alike. Not only that, but improvements continue to be made and are planned for years to come.
To honor St. Louis on its 250th birthday, we've collected some of what we believe are the most interesting highlights of this city's history.
A TIMELINE OF ST. LOUIS HISTORY
- 1764 – Pierre de Laclede Liguest and his 13-year-old stepson Auguste Choteau traveled to Missouri and established a fur trading post near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, which they believed would be the perfect location for trade. They called it St. Louis, in honor of Louis IX of France. However, this spot was part of the land given to Spain as compensation for the loss of Florida during the French & Indian War, so even though it was founded by the French, it was technically built on Spanish territory.
- 1803 – St. Louis became a part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. This is known to many as Three Flags day, as it changed hands from the Spanish to the French and finally to the Americans all in one day.
- 1804 – Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departed on their expedition to explore the western portion of the United States. Their trip was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson.
- 1806 - Lewis and Clark returned home from their journey, which surprised many people who'd assumed they had died out in the wilderness. They presented the maps, sketches, and journals containing their findings to Jefferson. Their success earned St. Louis the nickname “Gateway to the West.”
- 1822 – St. Louis was officially incorporated as a city.
- 1840-1860 – The population exploded with the arrival of immigrants. They were primarily German and Irish, both groups that were leaving their home countries due to dire circumstances, but later others would flood over as well, such as Italians, Serbians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Greeks.
- 1846 – Dred Scott sued for his freedom in the circuit court and won. However, Ms. Emerson, one of his former owners and a member of a prominent family in the St. Louis area, appealed the decision and it was reversed. This landmark case was carried all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- 1849 – In May, a paddle-wheeled steamboat called White Cloud caught fire. It floated down the St. Louis levee, colliding with a group of steamers and spreading the fire to 23 other boats. Those boats enabled the fire to jump to land, where it traveled from piles of freight on the levee to nearby buildings. By the time it had run its course, what came to be known as The Great Fire had engulfed over 400 buildings. This was also the first known fire in United States history where a firefighter was killed in the line of duty.
- 1874 – The Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River was completed, which was incredibly important for St. Louis position as a major manufacturing center.
- 1901 - Planning began for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. The festivities were intentionally delayed a year to allow for greater participation by other countries.
- 1904 – The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, commonly called the World’s Fair, was held from April 30 to December 1. The fair featured exhibits from 43 different countries. Refreshments such as iced tea, hamburgers, hot dogs, cotton candy, and ice cream in waffle cones were served and popularized at the fair; Dr. Pepper was also introduced. The Olympic Games were held in conjunction with the fair; this was the third modern Olympics and the first held in the United States. During the fair's seven-month run, over 20 million people visited.
- 1914 – This was the 150th anniversary of St. Louis being founded as a city. In honor of the occasion, a theatrical event was held called the Pageant & Masque celebration. It featured a cast of 7,700 which reenacted St. Louis's history thus far. Profits from the show were used to construct what would become The Muny.
- 1927 – Charles Lindbergh embarked on his solo flight from New York to Paris. His plane was named “Spirit of St. Louis” thanks to financial backing provided by St. Louis businessmen.
- 1965 – Construction was completed on the Gateway Arch, which honors Jefferson and his vision of a continental U.S.
- 1966 – The construction of Busch Memorial Stadium, St. Louis's second baseball stadium, was finished.
- 1970-1980 – St. Louis lost hundreds of thousands of residents. In response, Mayor Vincent Schoemehl instituted a couple of city improvement programs. Operation Brightside was a beautification project which planted trees and flowers along major streets, gifted plants to homeowners, and created summer jobs for city youths picking up litter in alleyways. The other program, Operation SafeStreet, addressed city crime, providing free or low-cost security measures such as deadbolts or bars for windows.
- 1993 – One of the most devastating floods in the history of the U.S. hit St. Louis, covering over 30,000 square miles of land with water. In total, the flood destroyed around 1,000 homes and racked up at least $15 billion in damages.
- 2011 - The St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series title.
St. Louis has hosted dozens of talented individuals in a variety of fields. Whether they were born here or moved here in adulthood, there have been plenty of icons who have excelled in sports, literature, music, acting, and business. Here is a handpicked selection of some of the bigger names you may recognize:
- Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) – publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the man behind the creation of the Pulitzer Prize
- Scott Joplin (1867-1917) – The King of Ragtime (“The Entertainer”)
- T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) – one of the twentieth century’s major poets (“The Wasteland”)
- Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) – playwright (“A Streetcar Named Desire”)
- Vincent Price (1911-1993) – actor (House of Wax)
- Betty Grable (1916-1973) – actress, dancer, and singer (How to Marry a Millionaire)
- Yogi Berra (1925-) – called one of the greatest catchers in MLB history
- Chuck Berry (1926-) – guitarist, singer, and songwriter
(“Johnny B. Goode”)
- Maya Angelou (1928-2014) – author, poet, and civil rights activist (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
- Tina Turner (1939-) – The Queen of Rock n Roll ("Proud Mary")
- John Goodman (1952-) – actor, voice artist, and comedian (“Roseanne”)
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1962-) – Greatest Female Athlete of the Twentieth Century, known for the women’s heptathlon and women’s long jump
- Sheryl Crow (1962-) – singer and actress
- Jenna Fischer (1974-) – actress ("The Office")
- Jack Dorsey (1976-) – co-creator and co-founder of Twitter
There are plenty of exciting things to do in the St. Louis area; it wouldn't be hard to dedicate an entire blog post to our various attractions. Here are just a few highlights:
- The Gateway Arch ($5 child, $10 adult) - get a bird's eye view of St. Louis
- The Zoo (free) - home to over 17,000 animals and over 700 different species
- The Art Museum (free) - displays a collection of over 33,000 objects from 481 different cultures
- The Missouri History Museum (free) - first recipient of the National Award for Museum Services
- The Science Center (free) - the Planetarium, OMNIMAX shows, and special exhibits cost extra
- The Muny (free seats available) - check out a great selection of musicals all summer long
- Missouri Botanical Garden (free child, $8 adult) - a colorful collection of plants and flowers
- Grant’s Farm ($12/car parking) - great for family outings; home to over 900 animals and over 100 different species
- The City Museum ($12 admission) - climb around and explore the whimsical features of this massive former shoe company
- Six Flags - spend a fun-filled, high-energy day at the amusement park
- Cathedral Basilica (free) - hosts the largest collection of mosaics in the world
- The Delmar Loop - several blocks worth of shops to visit, restaurants to eat at, and entertainment venues
In celebration of St. Louis's 250th birthday, residents have come together to make cakes - lots of them. STL250, or Cakeway to the West, is a unique campaign that has been installing 4' ornamental birthday cakes decorated by local artists in meaningful locations throughout the St. Louis area. The project has been called "one part public art exhibit, one part scavenger hunt, and one part history lesson."
Pictured above are a few of the cakes I found on Manchester and in Jefferson Barracks Park! Each cake has its own original design, and they are signed by their respective artists.
To learn more, you can check out the STL250 frequently asked questions page, or if you want to dive right in and start cake-spotting, they have a complete list of locations posted.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
St. Louis has plenty of plans compiled for improvements set for the near future. Some essential investments include putting money toward new fire trucks and ambulances as well as making repairs to City Hall.
The project CityArchRiver 2015 will make major changes to the Gateway Arch grounds. New spaces will be created for events and public education, park acreage and bike trails will be added, museum space will be expanded, and much more. The goal of this project is to make the Arch more accessible and safer to experience for locals and tourists alike.
Swedish furniture company IKEA recently broke ground for a store in St. Louis. This store location is expected to be 380,000 square feet.
Other proposed improvements include pouring funds into the St. Louis streetcar system, protected bike lanes, multi-use paths, and other pedestrian connections. City officials want to work to make the city less car-centric. This is intended to appeal to young progressives like those in Portland, San Francisco, or New York. It will also help residents cut down on transportation costs.
- A Brief History of St. Louis by The City of St. Louis website
- St. Louis History by Explore St. Louis
- Discover St. Louis History: A Crash Course by the official STL250 website
- St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees
- St. Louis Celebrities by Explore St. Louis
- The Top 15 Free Attractions in St. Louis by About.com
- 25 Things to Do in St. Louis by Explore St. Louis