5 Historical Facts You Didn’t Know About St. Louis

Before the phrase, ‘Meet me in St. Louis’ was known, the city was here and making its mark. St. Louis officially began when two French fur traders named the area after the patron saint of their king. When explorers Lewis and Clark set foot in the area and crossed the Mississippi to explore, or when Thomas Jefferson paid four cents an acre for the Louisiana Purchase, they probably could not envision what is now known as The Gateway to the West. The city has been the center of controversy, including the famous Dred Scott case involving a slave and whose overturned Supreme Court verdict sparked the Civil War; the same city has had its share of Charles Lindbergh flight-launching style of victories. Here are some more unique, and possibly odd, background facts of the people and the city that became known as the Midwestern river town.

The Goo From The Lou And Other Foods That Began In St. Louis

Besides toasted ravioli and pork steaks, which have a local history, anyone who has been a resident of the area for long knows that for more than a half-century Imo’s pizza is a must-have addition to the food pyramid for locals. Besides the flat crust and square pieces, it’s the provolone cheese that makes this particular pizza unique, with it’s gooey texture. Locals seem to love their “goo,” as another food that the area has become known for is gooey butter cake. Gooey butter cake is said to have actually been birthed by accident when an area baker hired a new baker who confused two forms of baking butters; but since it was the Great Depression era, the owner didn’t want the cake to go to waste so he sold it, and it caught on in the region. The area is also where Hostess Bakery made those sponge goo-filled cakes popular, and where 7-Up got its start. The bubbly drink once contained lithium citrate, which is a mood-altering substance said to lift spirits, and was launched using a much more complicated name, “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda,” just two weeks before the 1929 stock crash.


Famous Men And Women From The Area

Walk the Delmar Loop Walk of Fame and you’ll discover more than 100 familiar names of local St. Louis natives who have hit the big time, like Maya Angelou, T. S. Eliot, the namesake to the Pulitzer Prize, Joseph Pulitzer, comedian Redd Foxx, Vincent Price and Betty Grable. Also among these famous musicians is Chuck Berry, who still has been known to put on a concert for folks at Blueberry Hill and whose statue is on display outside of Fitz’s root beer factory and restaurant. Scott Joplin is another talent whose home is still open for tours downtown, remembering a time when he knew how to make the piano sing with his ragtime style introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.


Landmarks Include More Than Just The Arch

Mention St. Louis and the first thing that comes to mind is the Gateway Arch, but there’s plenty of other landmarks around the area that have a rich history. For instance, The Eads Bridge, the first arched steel bridge in the world, was constructed with scoffers laughing at the idea. Workers had to enter a small, constructed capsule which was lowered several feet below sea level in order to set the braces into place; many suffered from a neurological disorder because of their work, now known as “the bends.” The work these men left behind is still standing, and inspired W. C. Handy, the author and performer of the most-recorded Blues song, “St. Louis Blues,” to sit under this bridge on the riverfront to compose his iconic music.

Related: Five Reasons To Visit St. Louis In 2015


Teaching and Technology West Of The Mississippi

The area has a proud history when it comes to education. Now the home of some prominent universities, learning began at a much earlier level when Susan Blow began the first kindergarten in the nation in 1873. Sumner High School opened its doors as the first high school for African Americans west of the Mississippi River in 1875 and has since graduated some famous Americans. Chuck Berry and Tina Turner attended and graduated from Sumner, as did tennis legend Arthur Ashe. With all of this learning, the first public library west of the Mississippi was built in 1846. With teaching leading to technology, St. Louis’ McDonnell Douglas Corporation, at the time known as McDonnell Aircraft, made a huge mark on history during the space program of the 1960s. The astronauts arrived into outer space inside a space capsule that was designed and built by this St. Louis company.


The Cardinals Are Not The Only Sports Team

If you’re visiting downtown St. Louis during baseball season, be sure to wear red or be prepared to encounter the best fans in baseball who may wonder where your team spirit resides. Before the Cardinals, however, the home team was the Browns, who had a reputation of being at the bottom of the league. Other sports have put St. Louis on the map as well, even making St. Louis put its name on the map as the first USA Olympic host city during the 1904 World’s Fair. Though runners in the 90-degree August heat and humidity may not have had fond things to say about the area, the games did include plenty of monumental moments. For instance, though it was just one sport, women were allowed to participate in archery. The first international hot air balloon race was held in town in 1908, and Forest Park continues this tradition today with an annual Forest Park Balloon Race in the fall.

Related: Top Sports Bars in St. Louis

Tere Scott is a freelance writer and author of e-books and two educational blogs. She loves to research information to share. She currently resides in St. Louis. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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