Largest World's Fair Featured Ice Cream Cones, Fax Machines

ByABC News
April 29, 2004, 11:38 AM

May 3 -- One hundred years ago, May Fann was among millions of people who flooded to St. Louis to see the future.

"My eyes aren't large enough to see it all," May Fann told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1904. "How can there be so much in the world?"

In the age of TiVo, MP3 players and remote surgery, it may be difficult to imagine how a fair featuring fax machines, electric typewriters and cultural displays from the Philippines and Japan could prove so captivating.

Still, a century ago, these kinds of items were at the cutting edge of knowledge and, in the absence of television, movies and the Internet, giant fairs were one of the only ways to introduce the public to innovation. As President William McKinely described the events, the World's Fairs represented "timekeepers of progress."

"Back then it was a very big deal," said Max Storm, founder and president of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair Society in St. Louis, Mo. "Everything was new and exciting."

Machines, Mites and Dog-Eating

The 1904 fair was the largest World's Fair in history with 12 major exhibition buildings sprawling over 1,272 acres, or 2 square miles and with nearly 20 million people or about a quarter of the country's population in attendance between April 30 to Dec. 1, 1904.

It was officially called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition because it marked the 100th anniversary of the acquisition, and featured such "futuristic" items as X-ray machines, fax machines, telephone answering machines, the ice cream cone and the submarine.

Premature babies and newfangled incubators that helped care for them were even on display.