By Roberto Rodriguez
The opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition on April 30, 1904 was easily the most anticipated day ever in St. Louis. The Fair was a huge success, bringing some 20 million visitors through its gates over its seven-month run, and included hundreds of thousands of objects, people, animals, displays, and publications from 62 exhibiting countries and 43 of the 45 states, spread over its 1,200-acre site.
The Saint Louis World’s Fair, as it was commonly known, left an indelible mark. If you believe the popular tales, more American foods were invented at the Fair than during any other single event in history. The list includes the hamburger, the hot dog, peanut butter, iced tea, the club sandwich, cotton candy, and the ice cream cone, to name just a few. Many new automobiles were also showcased, including the innovative, air-cooled, waterless Knox.
The impact of the Fair was such that it would go on, in future years, to inspire the hit 1944 song, “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis,” and influence the artist Earl Eugene Mayan’s calendar art. Mayan immortalize the Fair as a “Great Moment of Early American Motoring History” in a calendar he illustrated for Humble Oil in 1968. In doing so, Mayan also immortalized the 1904 Knox “Tuxedo” Surrey that the Seal Cove Auto Museum owns today.
The Seal Cove’s Knox was custom built for E.H. Cutler, President of the Knox Automobile Company, and would later become the pride and joy of Waleta H. Clark, the wife of Henry Austin Clark Jr., of the since long abandoned Long Island Automotive Museum. In the 1960’s, through Clark’s entrepreneurship, the Knox was featured on postcards, prints, posters, and even in a promotional film for the 1957 Oldsmobile titled, “50 Years of Automotive Progress.” It is no wonder that when Mayan needed a car to render for his calendar art, he picked the Knox.
A reproduction of the calendar has been printed on a large banner as a backdrop for the Knox in the museum’s new exhibit, “Selling Lifestyle and Leisure: Advertising, Art, and the Automobile.” Don’t feel shy if you want to break into “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis” when you visit, and we may just rejoinder with, “Meet Me at the Fair.”
Roberto Rodriquez, with a career spanning 46 years as a museum professional, is now retired and spends his summers as Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Seal Cove Auto Museum.