Agricultural History Series

 Missouri State University

 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

Mule Show

Nearly twenty breeders from Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and a few from other states had mules on exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair.  More than 1,000 of these animals were on exhibit to attract the attention of numerous visitors.  Exposition grounds opened for the reception of mules on Thursday, August 18.  Exhibition of the mules began on Wednesday, August 24th and closed on Wednesday, August 31st.  No judging of mules took place on Saturday or Sunday, August 27th and 28th.

Newspapers bragged that Missouri, by far, had the monopoly of producing the finest mules in the world!  Mules of every type and variety were shown—all bred with the Missouri characteristics, “without which no mule can ever attain real greatness” in show or strength.  The vast majority of Missouri mules came from the counties of Audrain, Boone, Callaway, and Pike.  Superiority of Missouri mules was attributed to the State’s plentiful and nutritious bluegrass and waters that flow over vast beds of limestone.  This fact, along with clever planning, was said to make the Missouri mule one that could not be surpassed.

The standard features, as described by the Missouri Star, of the Missouri mule measured somewhere around 16 hands “from top of the wither to the bottom of the forefoot.”  Mules could range in size from a mere 11 hands to an impressive 13 ¾ hands of the largest specimen recognized to date.  The mules normally displayed colorings of black or bay, although colors of gray and sorrel are sometimes witnessed.  The sheen of the mules’ coats was said to be quite remarkable compared to thoroughbred horses.

A winning Missouri Mule

"Lill", shown by J. P. Wilson, Wellsville, MO.  17 hands, 1,560 pounds.

Missouri breeders were able to back up their boasts as the Missouri mules won many of the top awards at the World’s Fair. In fact there was so much excitement over Missouri’s mules that there was a full-page article about them in the September 11, 1904, St. Louis Star newspaper. The article included photos of some of Missouri’s best mules including Missouri Queen, the largest mule in the world, with a height of 18 ¾ hands and weight of 2,300 pounds.  W. H. Elgin, of Platte City, Missouri, was the proud owner of the Champion Mule Team of Missouri.  “Kate”, from Callaway was pictured standing proudly outside one of the exhibition halls

Platte City breeder, William A. Elgin, made a notable impression at the Universal Exposition.  Mr. Elgin had worked his way up through the ranks.  His career began in 1874 when he worked by the month and rented farms for ten years.  Genius in the mule business earned him the money to purchase forty acres of land in 1884.  Continued success helped his land holding to grow to 760 acres.  Three years prior to the Fair, Elgin bought several good young mules.  From that point he began to fit them for their showing at the ages of  four and five years of age at the 1904 World’s Fair.  These mules took home virtually all of  the blue ribbons for classes for mule sixteen hands and over.

Topsy, Cart winner for William Elgin

The excellence of mules bred in Missouri had been  recognized as early as the 1840s.  The phrase “Missouri Mule” was coined (or at least popularized) at the 1904 World’s Fair to give these animals from the Show-Me State due recognition.   One authority on jack stock and mules at the fair, General J. L. Jones, was quoted saying about the exhibits of mules he observed, “The like of which I have never seen nor ever expect to see.”

 Prize money awarded for first place in the 15 various judged mule sections ranged from $35 to $150.  First prize mule winners for the various categories are as follows:

Mules were also seen at other places on the fairgrounds.  One of the best examples is the 20 Mule Team Borax mules:

20 mule team borax mule team

References:  The St. Louis Star.  September 11, 1904.  World's Fair Bulletin.  July, October, 1904.  Ashton, John. History of Jackstock and Mules in Missouri. Missouri State Board of Agriculture, 1924.

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