History of St. Louis

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St. Louis lies at the heart of Greater St. Louis, a metropolitan area of nearly three million people in Missouri and Illinois, the Illinois portion of which is commonly referred to as the Metro-East. Greater St. Louis is an academic and corporate center for the biomedical sciences; St. Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis are the leading research institutions. It is home to some of the country's largest privately held corporations, including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Graybar, Scottrade, Edward Jones, and also some of the largest public corporations and corporate divisions, including Emerson, Energizer, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Purina, Express Scripts, Charter Communications, Monsanto Company, Wells Fargo Advisers, Citimortgage, and MasterCard.

The St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful Major League Baseball teams, make their home at Busch Stadium. Other professional teams include the St. Louis Blues (hockey) and St. Louis Rams (football). Successful sports franchises have led to St. Louis being called "North America's Best Sports City."

The area that would become St. Louis was a center of the indigenous Mississippian culture, which at its peak about 1200 AD built elaborate city sites with numerous earthwork mounds for ceremonial and burial purposes. Most of the mounds that survived into the 19th century were destroyed by development, but some idea of the complexity of the civilization is preserved at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cahokia in Illinois. About 70 mounds survive about 7 miles east of the later European-American city, which was given the nickname of "Mound City".

European exploration of the area began in 1673, when French explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette traveled through the Mississippi River valley. Five years later, La Salle claimed the entire valley for France, although it was inhabited by numerous historic Native American tribes throughout its length. He called it Louisiana after King Louis XIV; the French also called it Illinois Country.

In 1699, the French established a settlement at a village which they called Cahokia, across the Mississippi River and south of what is now St. Louis. They founded other early settlements downriver at Kaskaskia, Prairie du Pont, and Fort de Chartres, Illinois. In 1703, Catholic priests established a small mission at what is now St. Louis. The mission was later moved back across the Mississippi, but the small river at the site (now a drainage channel near the southern boundary of the City of St. Louis) was named after the fathers, and still bears the name "River Des Peres" (French Rivière des pères). Migrants from the eastern French villages founded Ste. Genevieve about 1752, across the river from Kaskaskia. It became a major agricultural center for the Missouri region, shipping tons of grain south to feed the colonists at New Orleans.

In 1763, Pierre Laclède de Liguest, his 13-year-old stepson Auguste Chouteau, and a small band of men traveled up the Mississippi from New Orleans to found a post to take advantage of fur trade coming downstream by the Missouri River. In November, they landed a few miles downstream of the river's confluence with the Missouri River at a site where wooded limestone bluffs rose 40 feet (12 m) above the river. The men returned to Fort du Chartres for the winter, but in February 1764, Laclède sent Chouteau and 30 men to begin construction at the new site, planned in a grid pattern in imitation of New Orleans.

The settlement began to grow quickly after word arrived that the 1763 Treaty of Paris had given Britain all the land east of the Mississippi. Frenchmen who had earlier settled to the river's east moved across the water to "Laclède's Village." Other early settlements were established nearby at Saint Charles, the independent village of Carondelet (later annexed by St. Louis and now the southernmost part of the current City), Fleurissant (renamed Saint Ferdinand by the Spaniards and now Florissant), and Portage des Sioux. In 1765, St. Louis was made the capital of Upper Louisiana.

From 1766 to 1768, St. Louis was governed by the French lieutenant governor, Louis Saint Ange de Bellerive, who was appointed by the town's leading residents. After 1768, St. Louis was governed by a series of governors appointed by Spanish authorities, whose administration continued even after Louisiana was secretly returned to France in 1800 by the Treaty of San Ildefonso. The town's population was then about 1,000. Meetings of leading residents were also held from time to time, and "syndics" were sometimes elected to carry out certain governmental tasks.

In 1780, St. Louis was attacked by the British-supported Indians during the American Revolution. The attack was fought off by local militia and a small force of Spanish regulars.

St. Louis was acquired from France by the United States in 1803 in the early Federal period under President Thomas Jefferson, as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The transfer of power from Spain was made official in a ceremony called "Three Flags Day." On March 8, 1804, the Spanish flag was lowered and the French one raised. On March 10, the French flag was replaced by the United States flag. Until the 1830s, French continued to be one of the major spoken and written languages.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition left the St. Louis area in May 1804, reached the Pacific Ocean in summer 1805, and returned on September 23, 1806. Both Lewis and Clark lived in St. Louis after the expedition. Many other explorers, settlers, and trappers (such as Ashley's Hundred) would later take a similar route to the West. The city elected its first municipal legislators (called trustees) in 1808.

The steamboat era began in St. Louis on July 27, 1817, with the arrival of the Zebulon M. Pike. Replacing the hand-propelled barges and keel boats that were once the choice vehicle of Mississippi River trade, steamboats could travel upriver, and against the current, just as easily as downriver.

Rapids north of the city made St. Louis the northernmost navigable port for many large boats. The Pike and her sisters transformed St. Louis into a bustling boom town, commercial center, and inland port. Missouri became a state in 1821, and St. Louis was incorporated as a city on December 9, 1822. A US arsenal was constructed at St. Louis in 1827. River traffic increased so rapidly that by the 1830s, it was common to see more than 150 steamboats at the St. Louis levee, and the wharves were filled with workers shifting goods on and off the boats. By the 1850s, St. Louis had become the largest US city west of Pittsburgh, and the second-largest port in the country, with a commercial tonnage exceeded only by New York.

Immigrants flooded into St. Louis in the 1840s, particularly from Ireland due to the potato famine, and Germany and Bohemia after the revolutions of 1848. The population of St. Louis grew from less than 20,000 in 1840, to 77,860 in 1850, to more than 160,000 by 1860. The city developed public transit to transport the many new workers in the city. Omnibuses began to service St. Louis in 1843, and in 1859, St. Louis' first streetcar tracks were laid.

In the tensions before the American Civil War, the city was a decisive stage for the early secession movement, which sought to gain control of the US arsenal for its arms, powder and ammunition. Although Confederate forces gained substantial portions of these supplies, most of it remained in Union hands, thanks to a pro-American German-American volunteer unit in the Camp Jackson Affair. For the remainder of the war, St. Louis was not affected by battle. The rest of the State saw several major battles during the war. The interior was devastated socially and economically even more by insurgent warfare between Confederate and Union partisans.

The war hurt St. Louis economically. Union troops blockaded the Mississippi River from 1861 through the end of the war, cutting off the lifeblood of river trade. The interior of the state was wracked by guerrilla warfare. After the war, trade in St. Louis declined to about one-third its average, as the economy of the South was devastated and it had been one of the major markets for St. Louis. The city, whose rail and river routes had linked Northern and Southern states, lost its preeminent position as a shipping center. With the destruction of the Southern slave-based agricultural economy, which had once featured all of the United States' antebellum millionaires and almost half of the wealth of the country, the South became an impoverished region. It no longer had any millionaires, and continued as the most impoverished portion of the country until after World War II.

Although Missouri was nominally a slave state, its economy was not dependent on slavery. Slaves comprised only 10 per cent of its population in 1860 and they were concentrated in the area known as Little Dixie along the Missouri River, and south of St. Louis in the Mississippi Delta area, where cotton, tobacco and hemp were cultivated by Southern planters who had migrated to those areas. The state remained loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War. Afterward, it gained substantial political access in Washington, D.C., and the financial centers of the Eastern seaboard during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. During the war, the Arsenal at St. Louis constructed ironclad ships for the Union, and shipbuilding continued at the Port of St. Louis into the latter half of the 20th century. St. Louis profited in the Western expansion following the war; changing its focus from Southern trade to Western trade, it was re-established as a shipping and transportation center for Western trade until the Southern economy recovered.

Eads Bridge, the first road and rail bridge to cross the Mississippi River, was completed in 1874.

On August 22, 1876, the City of St. Louis voted to secede from St. Louis County and become an independent city. At that time the County was primarily rural and sparsely populated with former Confederate-sympathizing families. The fast-growing City did not want to spend its tax dollars on infrastructure and services for a county dominated by Southern rural interests. Becoming an independent city, together with already being the center of most of the financial capital entering or leaving the state, enabled the Union-sympathizing elite in St. Louis government to increase their political power.

Washington Avenue Loft District

During reconstruction after the American Civil War, many rural Southern freedmen came to St. Louis seeking jobs and better opportunity. Later in the 19th century, Italian immigrants began to arrive in the city and farming areas. They helped expand wine making, established by German immigrants of the mid-century along the Missouri River, to the Rolla area. Immigration from southern and eastern Europe increased dramatically in the early 20th century.

As St. Louis grew and prospered, the city produced a number of notable people in the fields of literature and business. Tennessee Williams started writing in St. Louis and his memory play, The Glass Menagerie, was set here.

The Ralston-Purina company (headed by the Danforth Family) was headquartered in the city. Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewery, remains a fixture of the city's economy. The City was home to International Shoe, the Brown Shoe Company, and the St. Louis Division of the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company. Several important aircraft were built or first tested at St. Louis, including the CD-25 Coupe business aircraft (later the AT-9 Jeep in wartime service), the CW-20 twin-engine airliner, the C-76 Caravan, and the C-46 Commando of the Second World War.

St. Louis was also one of the cities to see a pioneering brass era automobile company, the Success; despite its low price, the company did not live up to its name. St. Louis is one of several cities claiming the world's first skyscraper. The Wainwright Building, a 10-story structure designed by Louis Sullivan and built in 1892, still stands at Chestnut and Seventh Streets. Today it is used by the State of Missouri as a government office building. By the time of the 1900 census, St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in the country, with a population of 575,238.

In 1904, the city hosted the 1904 World's Fair, which included the Olympic Games. The third Olympic Games were moved from Chicago, originally selected to host the games, to St. Louis to coincide with the Fair. The United States became the first non-European country and first English-speaking country to host the Olympics. Many European sports clubs and countries failed to participate, mainly due to the travel distance. Some mistakenly thought that the city was located in the undeveloped American West. Building for the Fair provided the city with important cultural institutions: the St. Louis Art Museum and the History Museum. In 2004, the region held several events to commemorate the centennial.

Souvenir of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

St. Louis developed a lively immigrant gang culture by the early 20th century, leading up to much bootlegging activity and gang violence. One gang leader, from an ethnic Irish part of the city referred to as "Kerry Patch", was named "Jelly Roll" Hogan. Hogan's gang is mentioned in Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie. In the 1920s there were shoot outs on Lindell Boulevard between Hogan's Gang and the gang known as Egan's Rats. A priest was brought in to broker peace between the gangs in 1923, but this truce only lasted a few months before two more people were killed in a public shoot out. In 1923, Egan's Rats made off with $2.4 million in bonds from a mail truck. Hogan during this time was a state representative. He was elected in 1916, eventually became a state senator, and serving a total of 40 years in elected office. The Kerry Patch is now part of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.

Discrimination in housing enforced by municipal laws and covenants was commonplace, and discrimination in employment was common before World War II. Additionally, many property deeds contained racially and religiously restrictive covenants. During World War II, the NAACP successfully campaigned, through protests and picket lines, to persuade the Federal government to allow African Americans to work in war plants. Union contracts had previously restricted these according to racial segregation or excluded black Americans from certain jobs.

With strikes interfering with vital wartime transportation and the Federal government unwilling to use its powers against the black community, the NAACP and black community leaders forced the firing of some 16,000 white workers and their replacement with blacks. The action left a bitter legacy in work-place and neighborhood relations; many white residents refused to sell property to blacks in the future.

St. Louis was involved in the school-desegregation and housing-access movements of the 1950s and 1960s. As court challenges were mounted to segregation in public schools, the head of the St. Louis school system, Daniel Schlafly, hired consultants to help design a desegregation program years before segregation was outlawed by the Supreme Court. The St. Louis school system implemented its voluntary desegregation plan just one week after the landmark desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Although in practice schools remained heavily segregated for some time due to residential patterns, St. Louis was regarded as being well ahead of most other cities in adapting to the ruling. The US Supreme Court's 1948 decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, a case which arose in St. Louis, held that a restrictive covenant - a clause on a property deed prohibiting a house to be sold to non-white or Jewish buyers - was legally unenforceable. This led to the integration of formerly segregated residential neighborhoods in St. Louis and elsewhere. With the pressure of new populations, in some cases, older white residents left the city for newer housing in the suburbs, some because they found integrated neighborhoods undesirable.

St. Louis experienced a major expansion in the early 20th century due to the formation of many industrial companies; it reached its peak population of 856,796 at the 1950 census. However, socioeconomic changes, political activism, and hopes for a more peaceful and safer life led many St. Louis residents to new suburban housing. Suburbanization sparked by the GI Bill, interstate highway construction, the Housing Act, Desegregation, the Civil Rights Act, Blockbusting, the 1960s Crime Wave, and various court rulings, combined with boosterism campaigns in housing preferences, proved unstoppable in shifting the population out of the city and into newly formed suburbs. Although the overall population of the St. Louis metropolitan area has consistently grown, the St. Louis city population decreased for many decades, a process which was accelerated by job losses due to restructuring of railroads, heavy industry and manufacturing.

Laclède's Landing Boulevard

Attempts to revitalize Downtown St. Louis and a corridor extending to the west through Midtown and the Central West End neighborhoods has had mixed success since 1980. The St. Louis Cardinals' new Busch Stadium opened in 2006. Ballpark Village would have been built where the northern half of the former Busch Stadium stood, but those plans have been put on hold. For several years, the Washington Avenue Loft District has been gentrified, with an expanding corridor along Washington Avenue from the Edward Jones Dome westward almost two dozen blocks. Revitalization continues, including new construction, as the corridor extends to the west to Forest Park.

Because of the major upturn in urban revitalization, St. Louis received the World Leadership Award for urban renewal in 2006.

Click here for a list of St. Louis Municipalities.

"St. Louis, Missouri." Wikipedia. 2011. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc.. 31 Apr 2011. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Louis.