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Thomas W. Cridler Louisiana Purchase Exposition Papers

Identifier: MSN/MN 0510

Scope and Contents

The collection as a whole consists of eight series, comprising more than 2,500 letters and an assortment of other fair related items. mostly dating from 1901 to 1904. The bulk of the collection is held in Series 2 (Cridler General Correspondence) and Series 3 (Cridler International Correspondence). The arrangement of these two series follows the order maintained by Thomas Cridler, and the material has mostly been left as found, with ancillary items and enclosures like newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, legal documents, postcards, and invoices scattered throughout. Many letters relating to the exposition are docketed at the upper left of the first page, with the subject, relevant country, and an identifying number. Cridler further organized much of the material by pinning together letters relating to a sustained topic. Of the correspondence, over 900 items are retained copies of letters written by Cridler, while over 1,500 are incoming letters written to Cridler by correspondents from 28 different countries, as well as from world's fair board members and leading officials.

Included in the second and third series are extensive communications between Cridler and diplomats and foreign nationals in Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Morocco and Turkey. While each folder's materials detail the professional activities of Cridler in his role as European Commissioner, there is also a good deal of personal and political content, colorful information and intrigue, woven throughout the correspondence he exchanged with his friends, fellow diplomats, and contacts stationed throughout the world. The letters reveal not only the hardships of distant posts and travel but much about the life of the United States diplomatic corps at the turn of the 20th century.

Also of note is Series 4, which contains speeches delivered by Cridler while acting as European Commissioner to the fair. Perhaps the most significant of these is an 18-page speech to a Washington Masonic Lodge describing his encounter with Czar Nicholas II of Russia. Other smaller series contain business cards, unused stationery, a stamp collection, and thirteen mostly unidentified photographs.


  • Creation: 1898-1911
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1901-1904


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Wilbur Cridler was born in Harper's Ferry, Virginia, on 13 November 1850. He was educated in West Virginia and Washington DC and studied law before joining the U.S. State Department as a clerk in 1875. He rose through the ranks of the State Department, ultimately achieving the position of Third Assistant Secretary (8 April 1897). While serving the government in this capacity, Cridler was appointed by President McKinley to be U.S. Special Commissioner to the 1900 Exposition Universelle at Paris. For his contributions to the fair, the French government made Cridler an officer of the Legion of Honor. Cridler resigned from the State Department on 29 October 1901, and two days later accepted the position of European Commissioner for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a world's fair planned for St. Louis in 1903. The fair was administered by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, under President (and former St. Louis mayor) David R. Francis and a board of directors drawn from the St. Louis business community. This leadership apparatus oversaw a network of executives charged with managing exhibits, works and transportation, concessions and admissions, and "exploitation" (recruitment) of foreign governments. Cridler was one of a handful of regional commissioners tasked with arranging the participation of states in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. His suitability for the job of European Commissioner was emphasized by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay: "The Directors of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition . . . realizing the experience you have heretofore enjoyed through your former service in the Department of State, by which you were brought more or less in contact with the governments and peoples you are now about to visit, has the confidence to believe that your best endeavors will be exerted to promote their friendly interest and cooperation toward the success of the Exposition at St. Louis."

Cridler's role as European Commissioner for the St. Louis World's Fair was the defining one of his career. Of the fair's importance, he wrote, "we are living in a world whose progress toward the higher and better things in life is undisputed. The St. Louis Exposition will be the embodiment of these, far beyond any similar enterprise." Initially scheduled for 1903 as a centenary celebration of America's westward expansion and economic and cultural progress since the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the fair's opening was postponed until 1904. Delays with construction in St. Louis and in securing commitments from foreign countries necessitated the postponement. On its opening on 30 April 1904, the exposition greeted its guests with displays from some 43 American states and 50 nations, housed in nearly 1,500 buildings that blanketed over 1,200 acres of land in and near Forest Park, due west of downtown St. Louis. Cridler was crucial to the event's success. When he accepted his position, David R. Francis told him "you are charged to take such measures and make such arrangements with governments, individual, and representative interests, as may appear proper, wise, and necessary to encourage and promote the welfare of the exposition in the foreign countries under your jurisdiction and to secure worthy participation on their part to the end that it may be distinctly the representative of its class." Cridler took these words to heart. During the eighteen months preceding the exposition's opening, he used all his contacts, diplomatic skills, and linguistic fluency to encourage European leaders and nations to join the St. Louis event. He returned to the United States just in time for the fair's grand opening. By the time the fair closed on 1 December 1904, it had welcomed many millions of people into its grounds and venues. Its attendance totals, size and scope, and undeniable grandeur made it one of the signal events of its kind ever held in the United States.

After the St. Louis fair, Cridler served as Vice President of the Collin Armstrong Advertising Company in New York City. He died at his New York home on 23 February 1914. He was survived by his second wife, Muriel (1879-1946), and two daughters.


2.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials




Spanish; Castilian



A collection including more than 2,500 pieces of correspondence to and from Thomas W. Cridler, mostly relating to his role as European Commissioner for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the St. Louis World's Fair) held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. Some of Cridler's correspondence is with fair administrators and U.S. diplomatic figures; some is with representatives of European nations targeted for inclusion. Also in the collection are smaller accumulations of other types of fair-related material, including speeches, printed ephemera, and a few photographs.


The collection is arranged in eight series: 1) Lousiana Purchase Exposition: Promotional Materials; 2) Thomas W. Cridler: General Correspondence; 3) Thomas W. Cridler: International Correspondence; 4) Thomas W. Cridler: Speeches; 5) Stationery; 6) Calling Cards; 7) Postage stamps; 8) Photographs. Series 2 is arranged chronologically. Series 3 is arranged alphabetically, by country, and thereunder chronologically. Typically, there are multiple items per folder.

Related Materials

Other papers dealing with the Lousiana Purchase Exposition are held in the Department of Special Collections at the Olin Library at Washington University in St. Louis, and at the Missouri History Museum Archives, St. Louis. For further information, see also Mark Bennitt and Frank Stockbridge, History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis: Universal Exposition Publishing Company, 1905) and James Gilbert, Whose Fair? (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009).

Thomas W. Cridler Louisiana Purchase Exposition Papers
Debra Dochuk and George Rugg
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556