After the Civil War, Saint Louis shifted from a commercial trading city that had successfully leveraged its rivers to an industrial manufacturing center relying more on the railroads. These expanding transportation facilities combined with the city’s rich mineral, agricultural and labor resources to produce an attractive environment for industrial development. In 1897 the Business Men’s League of Saint Louis claimed that:
As compared with the world, Saint Louis has the largest railroad station, hardware house, drug house, woodenware house and tobacco factory. As compared with the United States, Saint Louis has the largest brewery, shoe factory, saddlery market, streetcar factory and hardware lumber market.
It is now 120 years later and Saint Louis can no longer claim to be first in shoes, first in booze or even last in the American league. In all likelihood none of those claimed firsts still stand. Just seven years after the above pronouncement Saint Louis peaked, when it hosted the 1904 World’s Fair. You could say that Saint Louis has been pretty much gone downhill since then.
Hey, wait a minute. Who wants to be held to 19th-century values anyway? In the last 120 years, Saint Louis has made major progress in many other areas than manufacturing. For one, the air is cleaner now than then. Back then coal smoke caused daytime blackouts, with corresponding health effects, which also begs the question, who wants the world’s largest tobacco factory anyway?
I’ve lived in Saint Louis long enough to feel overshadowed by the 1904 fair and the so-called gilded age of Saint Louis. I’m sure it was a great party, but I wasn’t around then. I’ll just have to contend myself with chillin with my homies and look forward and not backwards.