America’s First Olympic City.
The 1904 St. Louis Games was the first Olympics held in the Western Hemisphere. At the time, it was the largest assembly of world athletes on U.S. soil. Although originally awarded to Chicago by the IOC, Missouri Governor David Francis successfully lobbied to move the Games to
St. Louis in conjunction with the 1904 World’s Fair. St. Louis is one of only three U.S. cities (St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta) to ever host the Summer Games.
Birthplace of the Olympic Gold Medal.
The St. Louis Games introduced the Gold Medal (then made of solid gold). For the first time, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded for first, second, and third place—giving birth to one of the most iconic Olympic traditions and symbols, and the popular Olympic mantra: “Going for the Gold.” Prior to the St. Louis Games, the 1st Olympiad in Athens awarded silver and copper medals, laurel branches and diplomas, and most winners during the Paris Games received cups and trophies.
First Modern-Day Built Olympic Stadium
and Olympic Gymnasium.
St. Louis was the first city to build brand new state-of-the-art athletic facilities for the Olympic Games. These included the Olympic stadium and first-ever Olympic gymnasium. At the time, the newly constructed 19,000-seat Olympic stadium was the largest all-concrete structure in the world and the first concrete stadium in the U.S.
The Olympic gymnasium was the first-ever built for the Olympics, which hosted fencing, the inaugural Olympic boxing competition, and the debut of Olympic basketball as a demonstration sport. Both the Olympic stadium and Olympic gymnasium are registered historic landmarks.
Today, the Olympic stadium, now Washington University’s Francis Field, is the world’s oldest Olympic stadium to host the opening ceremonies and field events that is still in regular use. The Olympic gymnasium underwent a major renovation in 2016 and is now Washington University’s Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center. An earlier expansion to the original Olympic gymnasium structure has been the site of four U.S. presidential debates in 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2016, plus the vice-presidential debate in 2008.
Birthplace of Olympic Diving, Boxing, Freestyle-Wrestling, and the Decathlon
Olympic Basketball made its first appearance as a demonstration sport.
First African-American Olympian
George Coleman Poage, born in Hannibal, MO, became the first African American to compete and medal in the Games by winning the bronze in both the 200-yard and 400-yard hurdles. He remained in St. Louis and taught English at Sumner High School.
First Native-American Olympian
Frank Pierce, of Nez Perce tribe, competed in the Marathon, paving the way for Jim Thorpe’s dominant 1912 Olympic performance.
First Olympian with a Disability to Medal
One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though he used a wooden prosthesis on his left leg.
First US Woman Awarded the Gold Medal.
Matilda Howell was awarded three gold medals in Archery for the 1904 Games—two individual and a team gold. During her lifetime, she was regarded as the first US woman to win a gold medal.
Over a half century later, the IOC retroactively made women’s golf during the 1900 Paris World’s Fair a qualified Olympic event, posthumously making the late-golfer Margaret Abbott (who received a porcelain cup for her 1900 Paris victory) technically the first US woman to “win” a gold medal on the history books. Matilda Howell won 17 National Archery titles and remains the first US woman to be awarded the Olympic gold medal.