Washington University Alumni Day at the World’s Fair: 100 Years Ago

June 16th, 1904, Commencement Day, was designated by the World’s Fair authorities as Washington University Alumni Day.

The Alumni Bulletin of 1904 called for “a general rallying of all friends of the University in Festival Hall” and noted that “this hall seats 3,500, and it is desired that it be crowded to the doors with friends of Washington University.”


A lithograph of the fairgrounds, 1904.

Alumni wearing ribbons in WU colors filled Festival Hall to listen to a program of organ music along with speeches by University administrators and distinguished guests.  The day ended with alums enjoying dinner on the Pike, the Fair’s major thoroughfare, while undergraduates walked up and down the same street singing songs and chanting cheers for Washington University.

The Louisiana Fair Exposition, held from April 30 to December 1, 1904, took place in Forest Park and on the campus of Washington University.

WU had close ties to the Fair.  Not only were many alumni involved in organizing the event, but the University also leased eleven building for use by the Fair.  All the athletic events at the Exposition, including the 1904 Olympic Games, took place in the school’s gymnasium and on Francis Field.


The World’s Fair Administration Building as it looked during the Fair, today known as Brookings Hall.

In addition, the Exposition Company granted WU use of a large dormitory at the fairgrounds.

The University used this space to invite high school principals and their families to stay as guests of the University while enjoying the Fair—a great way to advertise the growing university to potential students.


Front cover and inside of the invitation sent by WU to high school principals

Along with the new buildings on display at the Fair, multiple WU departments organized exhibits.

The Department of Physics displayed a machine for determining wind pressure, while the Chemistry Department showed a machine that determined free lime in Portland cement.  Medicine, Dentistry, and Manual Training also created exhibits highlighting the latest advances in their fields.  The Fair’s judges awarded Washington University a Grand Prize for its exhibit on instruction and research (pictured below).

For more information, see:

Research Guide to collections about the Fair and Olympics http://libguides.wustl.edu/1904

Sheet music from or about the Fair in the WU Libraries: http://catalog.wustl.edu:81/search/X?SEARCH=louisiana+purchase&l=&SORT=A&m=&Da=&Db=1906

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.