St. Louis, Missouri
United States of America
St. Louis, city in eastern Missouri, extending along the west bank of the
Mississippi River where it makes a great bend to the east. The hub of the largest
metropolitan region in Missouri, St. Louis is one of the Midwest’s principal industrial,
commercial, educational, and cultural centers. It is a city of predominately brick
buildings, softened by abundant trees that line streets and shelter homes.
St. Louis is located a short distance downstream from the confluence of the Mississippi
River and the Missouri River; the city is situated on land that gently rises from
the river shoreline. Average elevation is 139 m (455 ft). The city’s location in
the middle of the North American continent gives it very changeable weather. It
is influenced by both warm air masses from the Gulf of Mexico and cold air masses
from Canada. Annual precipitation averages 953 mm (37.5 in), with most of the rain
coming in late spring and early summer. Winter snowfalls account for about 500 mm
(about 20 in) of the precipitation. Winters, while cold, are rarely severe and summers
can be quite hot. The average high temperature in January is 3°C (38°F) and the
average low is -6°C (21°F); in July highs average 32°C (89°F) and lows average 21°C
St. Louis was established in 1764 by French fur traders and named in honor of Louis
IX, a 13th-century king of France canonized as a saint. In 1876 the state legislature
granted St. Louis a special status as an independent city and separated it from
surrounding St. Louis County. This was done at a time when the city was wealthy
and surrounding rural lands poor, but fortunes have since reversed and St. Louis
now covets the tax base of its prosperous suburbs. Attempts to rejoin the county
have been rebuffed.
St. Louis and its Metropolitan Area
The city of St. Louis stretches along the Mississippi River for 31 km (19 mi) and
covers a land area of 160.3 sq km (61.9 sq mi). St. Louis has been expanding to
the west almost from the time of its founding, with its downtown core slowly moving
away from the Mississippi and its population migrating to ever distant suburbs.
Today the central city is surrounded by a hodgepodge of small cities.
The spectacular Gateway Arch stands at the river’s edge on the site where St. Louis
was founded more than two centuries ago. The 192-m (630-ft) high city landmark,
completed in 1965, is the focal point of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Historic Site and commemorates the city’s role as a major gateway to the West during
the 19th century. Within the historic site, which has undergone large-scale redevelopment
since the 1950s, are two noted 19th-century buildings: the Basilica of Saint Louis-King
and the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott
case, an early test of the rights
of blacks, was argued. Another extensive riverside project, also completed in the
1960s, is the 50,000-seat Busch Stadium. Laclede’s Landing, a development north
of the arch, originally was planned to include housing but has instead filled with
mainly gift shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and a few tourist attractions.
The central business district—downtown St. Louis—lies just west of the Gateway Arch.
Market Street, the main downtown thoroughfare, extends from east to west through
downtown and separates the northern and southern sections of the city. Just west
of downtown, Market Street forms the main axis of Memorial Plaza, site of the major
public buildings in St. Louis. Dominating the plaza are the Civil Courts Building,
City Hall, the recently renovated Henry W. Kiel Municipal Auditorium, and the Soldiers
Memorial Building. Near Memorial Plaza is Aloe Plaza, the site of a magnificent
group of fountains designed by noted Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles. The
Wainwright Building, a forerunner of the modern skyscraper, is in the downtown area;
designed by Louis Sullivan, it was completed in 1891. The Cervantes Convention Center
and the Trans World Dome at America’s Center occupy redeveloped land on either side
of Seventh Street on the northern fringe of the central business district. Two urban
malls, the multi-storied St. Louis Center and the very popular St. Louis Union Station,
are also located downtown.
North and south of downtown St. Louis, tenements, row houses, and one-family dwellings
merge with industrial areas. Centered on Forest Park, in a section near the city’s
western limits known as the Central West End, are tall apartment buildings, mansions,
and tree-shaded streets, all of which make up the city’s most fashionable residential
district. Overlooking Forest Park is Hospital Row, a group of medical buildings
that constitute one of the nation’s leading medical centers. North of Lindell Boulevard,
which forms the northern edge of Forest Park, is one of the city’s large areas of
black population. South of Forest Park are areas inhabited primarily by persons
of Italian and German descent. The Anheuser Busch brewery in southern St. Louis
covers seven city blocks. Nearby along South Broadway is Soulard Market, where fruits
and vegetables from surrounding farms are sold. West of the market, many of the
elegant homes in the Lafayette Square neighborhood, formerly in decrepit condition,
have been restored.
The St. Louis metropolitan area consists of the city proper, six Missouri counties
(St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, and Warren), and five Illinois
counties (St. Clair, Madison, Clinton, Monroe, and Jersey). It covers a land area
of 15,865 sq km (6,125 sq mi). The almost entirely urbanized St. Louis County lies
to the north, west, and south of the city and contains two-fifths of the area’s
entire population. Further out is a belt of economically varied incorporated cities,
some quite small. Clayton is the seat of St. Louis County and the largest commercial
and office center outside the city core. Ladue and Chesterfield are upscale communities
where many of the region’s wealthiest families live. Creve Coeur and Westport, commercial
and industrial towns, are where many of the county residents work in office and
industrial parks. St. Charles County, Missouri’s fastest-growing county during the
1980s, is filling up rapidly as new subdivisions spread along Interstate 70.
The metropolitan counties to the east of the Mississippi River in Illinois are home
to both industry and fertile farmlands. The only heavily urbanized sections lie
close to the river in St. Clair County, site of East Saint Louis, and Madison County.
The economy of East Saint Louis has been depressed since the 1960s, and the city
is plagued by crime, deteriorated housing, and declining property values. Several
small cities have split off from East Saint Louis, taking large factories and much
of the tax base with them.
St. Louis is losing people at a rate faster than any other major American city except
Hartford, Connecticut. The city lost more than one-half of its population in the
second half of the 20th century. In 1950 it had a population of 857,000, in 2000
the population was 348,189. Population has increased dramatically in the suburbs,
however. Consequently, the population of the metropolitan area has more than doubled
since 1950, reaching 2,603,607 in 2000.
According to the 2000 census, blacks are 51.2 percent of the population, whites
43.8 percent, Asians 2 percent, Native Americans 0.3 percent, and people of mixed
heritage or not reporting race 2.7 percent. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders
numbered 94 at the time of the census. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 2
percent of the people.
Between 1940 and 1990 the black population in metropolitan St. Louis nearly tripled.
Blacks are most heavily concentrated in three areas in the St. Louis metropolitan
region: East Saint Louis, the North Side close to downtown, and an east-west belt
extending from the waterfront to beyond Forest Park.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, areas to the north and south of the central
business district were settled by immigrant working families from Germany, Ireland,
and many Eastern European countries, and by blacks from the American South. The
German element was especially strong on the south side. Adjoining the German community
were Czech neighborhoods. A large Italian neighborhood developed between Kings Highway
and Sulphur Avenue, and between Manchester Road and Arsenal Street, in the old fire-clay
mining area known as “the Hill.” The Dogtown area in southwest St. Louis has been
the home to a large Irish population. The European character of most of these neighborhoods
has long since disappeared as succeeding generations have moved to the suburbs.
The water- and coal-rich industrial cities that grew up on the east side of the
Mississippi River in Illinois also attracted immigrant groups as industries grew
and the need for unskilled labor expanded. East Saint Louis, Madison, Granite City,
National City, and Cahokia all attracted unskilled immigrant workers. Granite City
and Madison came to comprise one of the largest settlements of Bulgarians and Macedonians
in the United States.
The growth of metropolitan St. Louis correspondingly drew down the rural population
of the state. Nearly two-thirds of Missouri’s 114 counties experienced a net loss
of population between 1940 and 1990, with many of those leaving settling around
Education and Cultural Institutions
Major educational institutions in the St. Louis region include Saint Louis University
(1818), Washington University in St. Louis (1853), Webster University (1915), Maryville
University of St. Louis (1872), and a branch campus (established in 1963) of the
University Of Missouri. Smaller institutions include Fontebonne College (1917,
Harris-Stowe State College (1857), Lindenwood College (1827), and Missouri Baptist
College (1957). The metropolitan area includes numerous specialized colleges, seminaries,
and extensive community college systems.
There are excellent museums in St. Louis. The renowned Saint Louis Art Museum has
a major collection representing many of the world’s cultures. The museum hosts numerous
traveling exhibits and supports one of the most active art education programs in
the United States. Exhibits housed in the museum of the Missouri Historical Society
include a collection of mementos associated with Charles A. Lindbergh, who in 1927
became the first person to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The
citizens of St. Louis contributed funds for the construction of Lindbergh’s airplane,
the Spirit of St. Louis.
The St. Louis Science Center explores ecology, the
natural environment, technology, humanity, and space sciences. Laumeier Sculpture
Park is home to a wide collection of contemporary sculpture situated amid well-tended
lawns and woodlands. Other museums in the city include the Museum of Transportation
and the Museum of Westward Expansion, which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion
Memorial Historic Site. Among the unique attractions are the National Video Game
and Coin-op Museum and the National Bowling Hall of Fame.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1880, is among the oldest symphony
orchestras in the United States. The city also has an opera company, the St. Louis
Municipal Opera, which presents operettas and musical comedies during the summer
months in a very large open-air theater in Forest Park. On the campus of Webster
College is the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, the home of a professional
theater company, exhibition hall, and classroom for drama students. A popular performance
location is the Fox Theater, a beautifully preserved former movie house.
St. Louis maintains an extensive system of municipal parks. Among the chief units
are O’Fallon, Chain of Rocks, Tower Grove, Creve Coeur, Carondelet, and Fairground
parks. The city’s showcase is Forest Park, on the western edge of the city, one
of the largest municipal parks in the United States. The site of the Louisiana Purchase
Centennial Exposition in 1904, Forest Park is home to the city’s science center,
art museum, and history museum. The St. Louis Zoo, noted for its primate rain forest
habitat, is located in Forest Park, along with the Jewel Box, a picturesque area
of the park where flower exhibits are held. Also in the park, in front of the art
museum, is the equestrian statue of Louis IX of France, which is regarded by St.
Louis citizens as a symbol of their city. In the southwest of the city is the Missouri
Botanical Garden, one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, featuring the
domed Climatron with a collections of tropical plants.
St. Louis is the home of three major-league sports teams: the St. Louis Cardinals
(baseball), the St. Louis Rams (football), and the St. Louis Blues (ice hockey).
The Cardinals play in Busch Memorial Stadium, and the Blues play in the Savvis Center.
The St. Louis Rams play in the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis has no professional
basketball team, but St. Louis University’s varsity team, the Billikens, draws large
Among the annual events in St. Louis is Fair St. Louis, formerly the Veiled Prophet
Fair, said to be one of the nation’s largest Fourth of July celebrations.
The economy of St. Louis is diversified in comparison to most large American cities.
While employment in manufacturing, long the dominant economic sector, has declined
steadily in recent years, it remains a major economic force, and St. Louis is known
for its aircraft manufacturing and automobile assembly. Still, these industries
each accounted for less than 2 percent of total employment in the mid-1990s. While
manufacturing employment has declined, the service sector has expanded. In the mid-1990s
services provided employment for more than one-third of the labor force, up from
20 percent in 1978. Leaders in the sector include educational, health, and business
services. Other leading employment sectors include eating and drinking establishments,
wholesale trade, construction, transportation services, general retailing, banking
and finance, and communications and public utilities.
The retooling of auto assembly plants in the metropolitan area in the early 1990s
helped Missouri maintain its position as a leader in automobile assembly. Automobile
and aerospace industries account for about 20 percent of the manufacturing jobs.
The Ford Motor Company, the General Motors Corporation, and DaimlerChrysler AG all
have assembly plants in the area. The McDonnell Douglas Corporation, a major aerospace
company, had its headquarters in St. Louis until its merger with The Boeing Corporation
in 1997. Boeing plants in the area produce combat aircraft and missiles for the
armed forces and aerospace components for the federal government’s space program,
but reduced federal spending in the defense industries has led to a reduction in
the workforce. Other major industries include the production of primary metals,
metal products, machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, chemicals, and foods
and beverages. Monsanto, one of the nation’s largest chemical firms, has its headquarters,
major research laboratories, and four plants in the St. Louis area. Both Emerson
(electrical and electronic equipment manufacturing) and Graybar Electric (electrical
and communications equipment distribution) are headquartered in St. Louis. The Ralston
Purina Company has milling and food processing plants in the area as well as its
international headquarters. Anheuser Busch, often just referred to as “The Brewery,”
is a major employer on the South Side. Printing and publishing are also important
manufacturing activities. St. Louis no longer produces many shoes, but it remains
the headquarters of several major shoe firms, including the Brown Shoe Company.
The city is also the site of a Federal Reserve Bank.
St. Louis is one of the nation’s most important rail centers and inland ports. Freight
railroads from across the country converge in the city. Amtrak passenger service
connects St. Louis with Chicago to the north and urban centers to the south. A light-rail
commuter system serving the St. Louis central corridor began operating in 1993.
The city also is a major trucking center. United Van Lines, one of the nation’s
leading moving companies, is headquartered in the St. Louis metropolitan area. St.
Louis lies near the center of the Mississippi River system, and water transportation
is important to the economy. There are huge barge terminals for general cargo and
specialized terminals for coal, ore, grain, and other raw goods. Local manufacturers
depend on barge service for deliveries of raw materials and shipments of finished
products. Interstate 55 connects the city with Chicago to the north and major Mississippi
River cities to the south, while Interstate 70 ties it to Kansas City in the west.
Seven bridges span the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Lambert-St. Louis International
Airport has become a major transfer point for airline passengers. The St. Louis
airport serves national and international destinations.
Municipal government fills the roles of both city and county in St. Louis, which
is administratively independent of any county. Like many cities, St. Louis has a
mayor and board of aldermen, all elected for four-year terms. In addition, the city,
like Missouri counties, has a sheriff, treasurer, and prosecuting attorney, all
of whom are elected to office. The mayor, comptroller, and president of the board
of aldermen are all elected at large. The remaining 28 aldermen are elected in their
The geographical expansion of metropolitan St. Louis led to a serious and enduring
political problem—the fragmentation of the area into a host of independent political
units that rarely cooperate with each other. Several governmental and management
agencies have been established to deal with regional growth and development. These
agencies include the St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association, the St.
Louis Airport Authority, and the Boundary Commission.
St. Louis faces issues and problems common to large American cities: Urban decay,
the deterioration of inner-city housing, interracial tensions, homelessness, traffic
congestion, and air and water pollution are continuing problems. With many sources
of tax revenue out of reach in suburban cities, St. Louis lacks resources for renewal
and expansion of its infrastructure and adequate support for social services and
Decisions on the funding and location of public facilities and services are persistent
political issues. A proposal to extend Page Avenue from Westport Plaza across the
Missouri River into St. Charles County has proved divisive. The project is supported
by suburban communities but opposed by environmental groups and the people of the
Maryland Heights area because it cuts through Creve Coeur Park, one of St. Louis’
oldest and most attractive parks. The St. Louis Airport Authority wants to expand
Lambert Airport by adding a third runway. The expansion, which would require extending
the airport across Lindbergh Boulevard into Bridgeton at the expense of hundreds
of homes, is opposed by residents in neighborhoods in the airport vicinity and by
the state of Illinois, which desires a share of air traffic.
The Missouri Legislature created the St. Louis Boundary Commission to resolve the
problems caused by the formation of many small regional cities. The commission seeks
ways to merge the small cities into one government and reduce duplication of services.
St. Louis, as most American cities, has ongoing troubles with racism and race relations.
The problem’s roots in St. Louis date from at least the 19th century, when large
numbers of blacks were recruited to the city as factory workers. The blacks, largely
from the south, were relegated to distinct neighborhoods, which have retained their
racial character ever since. In the 1970s courts ruled that schools in those neighborhoods
were illegally segregated, and mandated integration. The court rulings accelerated
a rush to the suburbs by the city’s whites, and led to a development of an extensive
system of private schools outside of state control. A reduced tax base because of
suburban flight, combined with a disincentive for white voters to approve school
funding because so many of their children were in private schools, meant less services
in black neighborhoods. This worsened relations.
The Missouria people lived near the mouth of the Missouri River at the beginning
of European settlement of the region. The Osage people, who lived and hunted throughout
region, also visited the area on hunting trips. An even earlier habitation was by
members of the Mound Builders culture, who built extensive earthwork mounds at the
site of St. Louis and the nearby Cahokia Mounds east of the river.
In 1764 a trading post was established on the site of present-day St. Louis by a
party of French fur traders led by Pierre Laclède and his 14-year-old clerk, René
Auguste Chouteau. The site was chosen a year earlier, selected because it was the
spot closest to the Missouri River mouth that was still protected from floods. In
1770 the Spanish, who had acquired the entire Louisiana territory from the French
in 1763, established the seat of government for Upper Louisiana at St. Louis. The
isolated village soon became the headquarters of the western fur trade and the chief
point of departure for fur trappers and explorers traveling on the Missouri and
other rivers that led west. The small settlement that grew up around Laclède’s trading
post was nicknamed Pain Court
(short of bread) because of the lack of good
agricultural land. The settlement was also called Mound City because of the large
number of mounds Native American built on the upland. The mounds were destroyed
as the city expanded.
History - Economic Growth
At the time of the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803, St. Louis had
only about 1,000 inhabitants. In 1804 the settlement was made headquarters of the
newly formed District of Louisiana, and in 1805 it was designated the seat of government
of the Territory of Louisiana. St. Louis was incorporated as a village in 1808 and
as a city in 1822. The fur trade remained the city’s major economic activity until
about 1840, when fur trapping began to decline in the West. However, as settlement
pushed westward across the plains, St. Louis developed as a major outfitting center
for migrating settlers. Steamboats, flatboats, and keelboats crowded the city’s
Except for the warehouses and industries along the waterfront, the upland location
of the city made it safe from floods of the Mississippi River. The great flood of
1830 threatened to shift the river course to the east and cut off the docks and
wharves in St. Louis, a threat removed only after jetties were constructed to stabilize
the river course. The 1847 flood, said to be the greatest of all, did only moderate
damage in St. Louis but turned the bottomlands in Illinois into a boiling mass of
silt-laden water and uprooted trees. In 1849 fire and pestilence visited the city.
Fire broke out in the steamboat White Cloud
at the levee, and some 20 steamers
were consumed. The fire spread to the shore and swept through 15 blocks of buildings.
A virulent cholera epidemic in the city the same year claimed 4,557 lives.
The city became one of the nation’s leading centers for processing and shipping
agricultural produce, as well as for the manufacture of farm equipment, following
the development of agriculture on the fertile lands of the upper Mississippi and
Missouri valleys. In addition, the city’s economic growth was spurred by the coming
of the railroads in the 1850s. By 1860 St. Louis was linked by railroad with Chicago
and other large markets east of the Mississippi River. The city’s economic growth
was paralleled by a great increase in population. In 1840 St. Louis had 16,469 inhabitants;
by 1860 its population had reached 160,773.
History - The American Civil War and Postwar Period
Although during the American Civil War (1861-1865) Missouri was one of the so-called
border states, where economic and cultural loyalties split residents between the
Union and Confederate causes, St. Louis ultimately supported the Union. St. Louis
served as an important Union supply base and hospital center during the war. The
Union’s war needs also encouraged the development of industry in the city. Between
1860 and 1870 the value of manufactured goods produced in St. Louis increased fourfold.
In the same decade the city’s population almost doubled, reaching 310,864. During
the postwar years, St. Louis became one of the leading railroad centers in the United
States. In 1874 the Eads Bridge was completed across the Mississippi River, easing
the delivery of coal from rich fields in Illinois to St. Louis industry. Considered
an engineering marvel in its day, it was the longest span in the United States when
In the latter half of the 19th century, St. Louis lost its position as the Midwest’s
leading metropolis to Chicago, partly because of its tardiness in bridging the Mississippi
River to provide low-cost transshipment of rail cargoes to the Eastern rail network.
Political corruption around the turn of the century may have helped to slow the
city’s growth. Unscrupulous members of the city assembly formed the Combine, a corrupt
political machine, under the direction of political boss Colonel Edward Butler,
a blacksmith who had risen to the position of a millionaire politician. The Combine
would pass or defeat bills for bribes. The system led to other corrupt practices,
such as blackmail, payroll padding, profiteering on public improvements, and profiteering
on city contracts. During the Prohibition years in the 1920s bootlegging and gangsterism
grew in St. Louis.
By 1900 the city’s population had reached 575,238, and St. Louis ranked as the fourth
largest city in the United States. In 1904 the city was the site of the Louisiana
Purchase Centennial Exposition (see
Exhibitions and Expositions: Famous
). The exposition greatly benefited the city’s business
enterprises, and its industrial and commercial development continued until the Great
Depression of the 1930s, when St. Louis began to stagnate with the decline of its
markets in rural Missouri and Illinois.
History - World War II and the Postwar Decades
The entry of the United States into World War II in 1941 spurred the industrial
recovery of St. Louis, as it did other U.S. cities. During the war, the St. Louis
area became a major center for aircraft production. While there was some industrial
diversification in the postwar years, the population of the central city declined
and business lagged, despite much suburban growth. In 1953 a number of far-reaching
urban renewal projects were initiated. In the mid-1960s millions of dollars were
spent in an effort to convert blighted areas into modern residential, commercial,
and recreational centers, and about one-fifth of the city’s total area was rebuilt.
Tourism became an important source of income in St. Louis with the opening of the
Gateway Arch and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Historic Site. By the
mid-1970s the tide of decay began to turn in the city with completion of the Cervantes
Convention and Exhibition Center and the successful rehabilitation of large tracts
of commercial and residential real estate, followed by downtown malls in the 1980s,
and a new sports stadium and mass transit system in the 1990s.