Agricultural History Series
Missouri State University
1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair
The Worlds Fair Sheep Shows opened on October 5, 1904. The sheep show was described as the largest and best show ever held anywhere in the world. The best sheep from two continents were shown - 2,294 head.
The sheep exhibitors arrived to find that their pens were not quite ready. Many of the stalls had not been cleaned out from the recent cattle shows. Also, fair carpenters were trying to put gates on the cattle stalls, converting them into pens that would be necessary for sheep. This job was not complete when the sheep arrived, so those shepherds with some carpentry skills quickly made their own gates.
The sheep shows went rather smoothly, but the first controversy was about the location of the actual shows. The sheep shows were scheduled to be held in the large Livestock Forum which was some distance from the sheep barn. Sheep exhibitors protested that they could not be expected to lead (or drag) their animals all the way to the Forum since sheep are not shown with halters like cattle and horses are. However, the fair management prevailed and all shows were held in the Forum as planned. It was later noted that there were few problems in getting the sheep to the Forum. However, it was also noted that there were few spectators in the stands of the Livestock Forum during the sheep shows.
Large amounts of money had been invested by some exhibitors in order to insure a winning entry. However, when some high-dollar animals did not win as expected, those exhibitors complained. Protests were lodged against the judges of the Shropshire, Hampshire, Oxford and Southdown shows. One magazine described the show scene - "a more ferocious lot of kicking was never seen in a show yard. The atmosphere was simply blue with it's fumes. Whispers of judges being 'fixed' were quite common."
Champions on display in the Livestock Forum
The biggest problem of the sheep shows involved the Fair's shearing rule. The rule was that "all sheep and goats must have been evenly, closely and properly shorn on or after the first day of April 1904." Each exhibitor was required to sign an affidavit that the rule had been followed. Obviously, some exhibitors signed the affidavit, but had not followed the rule. The American Sheep Breeder magazine commented, "Some of the exhibits carried abnormally long fleeces considering they were shorn after April 1. What fleeces they must have at a year's growth!" Two fine wool flocks were disqualified because of excessively long wool on their entries. The rule was not enforced at all on the mutton breeds because wool was not considered important in such meat breeds.
The premier championship was a highlight of the sheep judging.
The October St. Louis weather was just perfect for the sheep shows. The rains that plagued the horse and cattle shows ended and the sheep shows were held during beautiful "Indian Summer" weather.
Click on the links below to learn more about individual sheep events:
Another notable sheep event held at the same time was competitive sheep shearing.
References: American Sheep Breeder, 1904; The Breeder's Gazette, October 12, 1904; Farmer Stockman, October 20, 1904.
Photos from American Sheep Breeder.
This page was designed and is maintained by Lyndon Irwin.
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