US Coins

This Day in History: April 30

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition official souvenir medal shows French ruler Napoleon and American President Jefferson, the rulers of each nation when the Louisiana Purchase was signed by France and the United States in 1804. In the background is a scene from the expo grounds.

Medal images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

When the Louisiana Purchase Exposition opened April 30, 1904, two American presidents (one future president, the other the current president) were there to partake in opening ceremonies.

It was kind of a big deal.

The exposition (also known as the 1904 World’s Fair) drew an opening day crowd of 200,000, including President Theodore Roosevelt and his secretary of war, William Howard Taft (who would later become president). Another president had had a part in welcoming attendees as well.

In 1901, then-president William McKinley had said, “In the name of the United States, I invite all nations of the earth to take part in the commemoration of the Louisiana Purchase.” 

St. Louis welcomed the world, showcasing the city symbolizing the great Western expansion. St. Louis was, after all, the fourth-largest city in the country at the time. 

Some 1,500 buildings were erected on the 1,200-acre site, which now is home to Forest Park, the largest municipal park in the United States.  

According to the Missouri History Museum, “For the next seven months, St. Louisans and travelers from across the globe experienced the latest achievements in technology, fine arts, manufacturing, science, civics, foreign policy and education,” the museum said. “The Fair boasted extravagant exhibits from 50 foreign countries and 43 of the then 45 states.” 

Festival Hall, in the center of the Colonnade of States overlooking the Grand Basin, had a seating capacity of 3,500. Eight principal palaces surrounded Festival Hall.

By the time the fair closed on Dec. 1, 1904, an estimated 20 million visitors had passed through the gates, to view exhibits of a cultural, historical and entertaining nature. 

Numerous medallic items (and even U.S. coins) were issued to commemorate the event.

One of these, the official souvenir medal, is among a class of pieces known as “so-called dollars,” for their size similarity with U.S. silver dollars.

Eighteen different medal designs are cataloged as “so-called dollars,” with the souvenir medal depicting President Jefferson and Napoleon the most common. 

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