From Fingerprints To Beer Distribution, Exploring St. Louis' Firsts
First use of fingerprinting. First drive-up bank teller. First cocktail party. First nighttime Major League Baseball season opener.
St. Louis has been the home of many firsts, the subject of a book by Diane Rademacher, “Famous Firsts of St. Louis.” Rademacher said she was inspired to write the book after seeing Duck Tour boats decorated with the firsts of Boston, and trip to the St. Louis Police Department for fingerprinting for a government job. After all, in 1904 the St. Louis Police Department was the first police department to establish a fingerprint system. The FBI’s Identification Division wasn’t established until 1921.
Proving firsts were indeed firsts required a lot of research, Rademacher said.
“What I tried to do was go to source documents whenever possible. I scoured a lot of books, the indexes,” Rademacher told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “Some things kind of amazed me, like the junior dress. I had no idea that that was a concept that originated here in St. Louis in the 1930s.
“There was a merchandise manager at Kline’s Department Store, and he just thought that women’s dresses would sell to younger women more readily if they were designed for these younger women. So he challenged the art department students at Washington (University) to come up with designs that would appeal to co-eds at the school. That started a whole industry here in St. Louis, the junior dress size. At one point, there were 250 dress factories that were operating here in St. Louis.”
Several firsts, like the police department’s fingerprinting system, can be traced back to 1904 when the World’s Fair and the Olympics were in St. Louis.
“The Olympics that we had here in 1904, this was the first site in the United States for the modern-day Olympics,” Rademacher said. “And within those Olympics, there were other firsts. The tradition of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals, that started here in St. Louis. George Poage was the first African-American medalist. He won two medals, in the 200- and 400-meter hurdles. And also the first Native American Olympian was here in St. Louis. His name was Frank Pierce, and he predated Jim Thorpe, a very popular Olympian, by eight years.”
Pierce participated in the marathon, but did not finish the competition. That marathon has been called one of the strangest Olympic spectacles.
Among St. Louis’ firsts:
The Rockettes, a precision dance company known for their Radio City Christmas Spectacular performances, got their start as the Missouri Rockets in St. Louis in 1925.
St. Louis’ D’Arcy Advertising Co. redefined Santa Claus for the Coca-Cola Co. in 1931, creating the jolly, chubby man many know today.
In 1911, Helene Robison Britton became the first woman to own a Major League Baseball club, the St. Louis Cardinals. She inherited the team from her uncle, Stanley Robison. Under her ownership, the Cardinals placed third in the standings in 1914 and 1917, the highest rankings the team had reached to that point. Britton is also credited with recruiting future Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby for the team.
The first nighttime MLB season-opener was played on April 18, 1950, between the Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Sportsman’s Park III in St. Louis. The Cardinals won, 4-2.
Lemp Brewery was the first to transport and distribute beer nationwide, using refrigerated railroad cars.
In 1930, the Grand National Bank in St. Louis was the first to introduce a drive-up window teller. When a teller wasn’t available, deposits could be made “through a thief-proof slot” near the window.
There were no cocktail parties before May 1917. That was the year that Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. hosted a Sunday party after church at the Walsh mansion. The mansion, at 4510 Lindell Blvd., was bought by the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1924 and is now the official residence of St. Louis’ archbishop.
“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.