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 (70°F).

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 St. Louis.

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 crowds.

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 home districts.

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.

Contemporary Issues

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 cultural activities.

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 waterfront.

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 completed.

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 20th-Century Expositions). 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.