Since its founding in 1764, St. Louis has witnessed some incredible moments in history. From the invention of the ice cream cone to the dedication of the Gateway Arch, much has happened within the city limits. You’ll be surprised how many quirky moments in history were made right here in The Gateway City!
1. When the National Park Service decided to build a monument in STL, they hosted a competition for its design.
The nonprofit Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association (JNEMA) officially announced the competition in 1945. The contest officially opened in May of 1947, and 172 submissions were received. The winning design was the result of Eero Saarinen's genius, and he and his team were awarded a cash prize. Saarinen was given $50,000, and his team $40,000. Construction began on the iconic landmark on December 20, 1961.
2. St. Louis was once known to have the filthiest air in the nation.
On November 28, 1939, also called "Black Tuesday," emissions from factories burning coal became trapped around the city. A thick layer of smog blocked out the sun, and visibility was so poor that street lights were left burning all day long. Motorists crawled along with their headlights on, and some feared that they would not be able to see their destinations. How did this happen? It started with high-sulfur coal that locals imported from Illinois. Combine those heavy emissions with a pollution-trapping temperature inversion, and you've got a dark cloud that hangs close to the ground. The problem was corrected through the use of cleaner coal and the implementation of a new smoke ordinances.
3. In fact, the city's pollution problem was so bad that the Missouri Botanical Garden once considered moving.
Henry Shaw's coveted garden was particularly affected by the presence of airborne coal soot pollution in the 1920s. They considered relocating to a cleaner area, but ultimately helped spread awareness of the problem and helped work toward a solution. They even installed filters that measured the amount of pollutants while purifying air for their greenhouses. Director George Moore was particularly instrumental in the promotion of smoke abatement projects.
4. Reynard the anthropomorphic fox was once a fairly common sight around St. Louis.
This foxy trickster was the main character in a series of satirical fables in the Middle Ages, but he somehow he became associated with Bevo soft drinks. As you may know, Bevo was a malt beverage produced by Anheuser-Busch during Prohibition to keep the company afloat while alcohol sales were illegal. Somewhere along the way, this unusual character was adopted in the company's advertising campaigns. You can still spot his likeness around town, including as a statue on the Anheuser-Busch Brewery building.
5. The first parachute jump from a moving airplane was made in St. Louis.
U.S. Army Captain Albert Berry was flying over Jefferson Barracks on March 1, 1912 when he decided to make a daring jump. Equipped with a parachute, he did not expect to violently tumble for the first 500 feet or so of his jump. Then, when the parachute snapped opened, he floated easily to the ground and was received by cheering soldiers. The event was heavily publicized, and St. Louisans claimed it as the first stunt of its kind.
6. Before it was known as "The Gateway To The West," St. Louis was nicknamed "Mound City."
The indigenous peoples of the St. Louis area were mound builders, meaning they constructed elaborate earthen monuments. These mounds, which were often conical and hill-like, were commonly used as burial sites. Unfortunately, the city's earliest residents had a habit of destroying these remarkable archaeological structures. In preparation for the World's Fair of 1904, 16 mounds were destroyed in Forest Park alone. When the city was founded, it is estimated that there were at least 27 mounds in the immediate area. Today, there is only one remaining: Sugarloaf Mound.
7. Toasted ravioli was created in The Hill neighborhood by accident.
Local legend maintains that a chef at Oldani's discovered the celebrated delicacy when he accidentally dropped ravioli into a fryer. Another legend suggests that the same situation actually occurred at Angelo's. Regardless of
which restaurant it came from, it's safe to say that this delicacy was, indeed, born somewhere in The Hill.
8. Our favorite hockey team was named after a song.
The W. C. Handy tune "Saint Louis Blues" is a song that has taken over popular culture. It is, of course, a song beloved by jazz musicians everywhere, but it was also a pop song enjoyed by all. It has been performed by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Minnie Mouse, and its iconic tune has been featured in many feature films. Now you know why the team's logo is a music note!
9. Publicly-funded kindergarten found its start in The Gateway City.
In 1873, Susan Blow founded the Des Peres School, which included a public kindergarten class. It started with 42 students and two assistants. Within a decade, every public school in St. Louis offered kindergarten classes.
It seems that every building in St. Louis hides a fascinating history, as even lifelong St. Louisans find themselves learning something new every day. Do you know a piece of unusual local trivia? Share it in the comments to help us celebrate our local culture!