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A Fair to Remember


The Twentieth Century blossomed with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, informally known as the St. Louis World's Fair. Plans for the fair began in 1898. The committee raised $15 million from government and private sources, and by 1901, construction was underway on 1,200 acres of Forest Park.

North Dakota Governor Frank White saw the fair as a great opportunity. One of the state’s biggest advantages was the large amount of available land, but it was a challenge to lure settlers onto the northern plains. At the time, the population of the state was a little over 300 thousand. Governor White felt that the World’s Fair would be a great place to promote the state.

On this date in 1902, the Oakes Republican reported that the Governor was advancing plans for a North Dakota exhibit for the Fair. White’s plans were ambitious. He requested $20,000 from the state legislature and expected an additional $30,000 in private donations. He also asked every county to contribute. The exhibit would feature North Dakota’s agriculture. The newspaper praised the effort saying, it would appeal to those “who cannot purchase land in the east.”

Two years later, the fair opened, attracting more than 20 million people between April 30th and December 1st, with an average of 100,000 visitors per day. The fair was immortalized in the Judy Garland film Meet Me in St. Louis.

The fair had transformed Forest Park into a wonderland of palaces, lagoons, and amusement rides, everything elaborately lit with electric lights. The Ferris Wheel made famous at the Chicago World’s Fair was brought in. It carried over 2,000 people 250 feet into the air. The 1904 Olympics, the first to be held in the United States, also took place in St. Louis that year, with many events taking place within the fairgrounds.

North Dakota proudly took its place in the Plateau of States, a concentration of display buildings featuring the states and territories. Today there is not very much remaining from the Fair. The Administration Building is now on the campus of Washington University, and the Palace of Fine Arts became the St. Louis Art Museum.

Perhaps the North Dakota exhibit bore fruit. By 1910, the state’s population had grown to 577,000 and by 1920 it stood at 646,872.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Oakes Republican. “North Dakota at St. Louis.” 25 April, 1902.

North Dakota State University. “North Dakota State Population.” "https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~sainieid/north-dakota-historical-population.html" https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~sainieid/north-dakota-historical-population.html Accessed 25 March, 2017.

St. Louis Government. “When the World Came to St. Louis.” "https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/archive/history-forest-park/fair.html" https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/archive/history-forest-park/fair.html Accessed 25 March, 2017.