St. Louis, Missouri, is known for the Gateway Arch and... well, actually, that's pretty much what it's known for nownote , which is a real shame considering its history. St. Louis sits just south of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, a naturally prudent place for a major settlement; the ancient Native American city of Cahokia, the largest pre-Columbian city in what would become the US, was more or less just on the other side of the river. The French were the first Europeans to settle in the area, officially founding St. Louis in 1764. The town then almost immediately passed into Spanish hands (though it remained culturally French), before going back to France in 1800 and then being sold to the fledging United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Keeping up so far? The city's location at the convergence of the two longest rivers in North America made it a strategic and commercial hub, which in turn helped it grow into a huge city and made it an especially big deal back when riverboats were considered a speedy form of transportation. At the start of the 20th century, St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in the entire country. However, the city has been declining in importance (and population) for quite awhile now. It's lost population in every census since 1950, is no longer even in the top fifty largest cities in the U.S., and is no longer even the largest city in Missouri.note
St. Louis is nicknamed "the Gateway to the West" (cf. the Gateway Arch), in reference to its history as a staging ground for westward expeditions by Lewis and Clark and others and its historical position as the last major urban enclave en route to the western frontier. It has sometimes been called "the westernmost eastern city" for similar reasons. (Though Missourians who live more than a couple of dozen miles from the Arch may instead call it "the Exit from the East.") Politically, St. Louis is a fairly deep blue stronghold in an otherwise mostly red state, a trait it shares with Jackson County (Kansas City) and Boone County (the University of Missouri–Columbia). Speaking of counties, the City of St. Louis is not in any of Missouri's 114 counties. It used to be part of St. Louis County but voted to secede in 1876. Besides affecting the city's tax base and infrastructure, this separation has also contributed to St. Louis's population shrinkage by comparison with other major U.S. cities—since the borders of the city itself are fixed, the common practice of incorporating outlying suburbs has been halted for the last century and a half. The full metro area is actually the 21st most populous in the U.S. to this day—still a major downgrade from its earlier prominence, to be sure, but not nearly as bad a drop as it looks on paper. Part of that metro area lies across the river in Illinois; those go by the description "Metro East" for obvious reasons.
St. Louis has a running rivalry with fellow Midwestern giant Chicago dating back to when they were the biggest cities in the Midwest. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (more widely known as the "St. Louis World's Fair") was held there in 1904, which also hosted the third Olympic Games, the first held in America—Chicago's still kinda mad about this, since they were supposed to have the games before they switched to take advantage of the fair. Today, the only thing St. Louis really competes directly with Chicago (outside of sports) is its crime rate; St. Louis' violent crime rate is regularly the highest in the nation.
The Gateway Arch has a viewing area at its apex which can be reached by so-called tram cars that ascend either leg of the arch. Each tram consists of a chain of cars with circular cross-sections, which remain horizontal as they travel up and down the changing inclines. Definitely not for the claustrophobic, however, since each car holds five people with no standing room and looks a bit like a washing machine drum.
St. Louis is home to:
- The St. Louis Cardinals (MLB). The Cardinals are second only to the New York Yankees in total World Series titles and have a strong following. Indeed, in many ways they punch well above their weight in terms of prominence for a market of their size, largely due to the historical circumstances of having been the MLB team furthest west and furthest south for the first half of the 20th century. That landed their games on a large network of first radio and then television stations for "local" broadcasts, which they still maintain to a surprisingly large extent. Especially prominent is radio flagship KMOX, which, because of the flat topography of the American Midwest, the nature of AM broadcasting on medium wave radio, and the power of the signal, can be heard as far away as Canada.
- St. Louis used to be home to another MLB team, the St. Louis Browns of the American League, which played in the city for the entire first half of the 20th century but moved to Baltimore right around when it became clear St. Louis wasn't going to stay big enough for two teams. Unlike the usually successful Cardinals, the Browns were a perennial bottom-dweller that often resorted to gimmicks to sell tickets, especially when the team was owned by the infamous Bill Veeck (whose named rhymes with "wreck", as his autobiography was titled). Veeck once signed Eddie Gaedel, who was only 3 feet 7 inches tall, to a contract so the opposing pitcher couldn't strike him out because of the small size of his strike zone. Gaedel even wore the fraction "1/8" as his uniform number.
- The St. Louis Blues (NHL). One of six teams that joined the NHL when it doubled in size in 1967, they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first three seasons, aided greatly by a league format that saw the "Original Six" in one conference and the expansion teams in the other. However, they lost all three, twice to Montreal and once to Boston. In the middle of the 2018–19 season, it looked like they'd continue their ignominious streak of being the only active team from the 1967 expansion never to lift Lord Stanley's Mug, seeing that they were dead last in the league. They then pulled a dramatic comeback, making the playoffs and then winning their first Stanley Cup.
- St. Louis City SC (MLS) – Started play in 2023. The city has been a hotbed of U.S. soccer for decades; in fact, for a time in the early 20th century, the de facto top level of the sport was a St. Louis city league. While the league folded during the Depression, the passion never went away, with several relatively short-lived teams operating in various U.S. leagues over the years. College soccer was and still is big in the region as well. The Saint Louis Billikens (Saint Louis University) were a dominant men's side from the 1950s through the mid-1970s, winning a still-record 10 NCAA Division I championships.note The Billikens are half of a big local rivalry in the sport with the SIU Edwardsville Cougars (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) across the river in Metro East. The city had been on MLS' radar almost since the league was founded, but plans for a St. Louis team fell into development hell until 2019, when City SC was announced with a planned 2022 start date, later pushed back to 2023.
The city was home to two notable NFL franchises. The Chicago Cardinals moved to the city in 1960. They played there for 28 years and were quite mediocre; they only visited the playoffs thrice in that span, never actually won in the postseason, and left for Arizona in 1988. The city put up the bill for a new stadium in the '90s hoping to attract a team and brought in the Los Angeles Rams when owner Georgia Frontiere, a St. Louis native, thought the team would do better in her hometown than the crowded LA market. For a time, it actually did: "The Greatest Show on Turf", which lasted from 1999 to 2001, won the Super Bowl in 1999 by one yard against the Titans, and made it to the Big Game again in 2001 only to lost to the Patriots on a last-second field goal. After Frontiere's death in 2008, however, they didn't put up a single winning season. Since their lease allowed them to depart if their stadium was deemed subpar and the economically struggling city couldn't afford to renovate it, the Rams eventually hightailed it back to LA in 2016.
Anheuser-Busch was founded in St. Louis, and it is still home to the international brewing conglomerate's North American headquarters. (Maybe that has something to do with the whole crime thing?) These days almost nobody says "Saint Louie" unless they're joking or referencing Yogi Bear.
People from St. Louis (and vicinity):
- Akon: Born in STL, grew up mostly in Senegal.
- Maya Angelou
- Noah Antwiler
- Josephine Baker
- Scott Bakula: Born in St. Louis, attended Kirkwood High School.
- Yogi Berra
- Chuck Berry
- Evan Bourne/Matt Sydal
- Sterling K. Brown
- William S. Burroughs
- Cedric the Entertainer: Born in Jefferson City, MO, moved to the Berkeley suburb after junior high.
- Bob Chandler, who founded a shop in the suburbs where his personal pickup truck evolved into Bigfoot, the first ever monster truck, creating a whole new motor sport.
- Kate Capshaw (born in Fort Worth, but raised in St. Louis)
- C. J. Cherryh
- Kate Chopin
- William Clark: Supplied and launched the Lewis and Clark Expedition from St. Louis and nearby St. Charles, respectively; returned to the area after the Expedition and lived there the rest of his life, while holding various prominent government positions.
- Sarah Clarke
- Andy Cohen
- Jimmy Connors: Tennis great from Metro East (born in East St. Louis, raised in Belleville)
- Bob Costas: Born in Queens, New York, but relocated to St. Louis to begin his broadcasting career after attending Syracuse University.
- Miles Davis: Born in Alton, Illinois, grew up in East St. Louis.
- Phyllis Diller
- Colin Donnell
- Jack Dorsey (Twitter co-founder and CEO)
- T. S. Eliot
- Jenna Fischer: Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, grew up in St. Louis (as did her Office co-stars Ellie Kemper and Phyllis Smith).
- Redd Foxx
- Jonathan Franzen: Born in suburban Chicago, his family moved soon after to Webster Groves, MO, where he grew up.
- Nikki Glaser (comedian): Born in Cincinnati, OH, grew up in St. Louis.
- David Gonterman
- John Goodman
- Ulysses S. Grant: The site of his farm is now a popular tourist attraction, complete with a petting zoo.
- Dick Gregory
- James Gunn
- Sean Gunn
- Jon Hamm: Born in St. Louis, grew up in nearby Creve Coeur.
- Scott Joplin
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Track legend born and raised in East St. Louis.
- Kane: Born in Spain to an Air Force family, grew up in St. Louis.
- Faye Kellerman (bestselling novelist)
- Ellie Kemper—perhaps best known as Erin from The Office and now starring as the title character in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—was born in Kansas City but moved to St. Louis as a child. Fun fact: she went to the same high school as Jon Hamm had, and he taught her eighth grade acting class.
- Kelly Klein
- Kevin Kline
- Ann Leckie
- Charles Lindbergh: Worked as a pilot based out of St. Louis prior to his famous solo transatlantic flight. The flight itself was financed in part by St. Louis businessmen, and was carried out in a custom-built plane called The Spirit of St. Louis.
- Patricia Lockwood (poet and novelist): Born in Fort Wayne, IN, grew up in St. Louis and Cincinnati.
- The members of Ludo
- Michael McDonald (singer most famous for his time in The Doobie Brothers): Born in a St. Louis hospital to a family that lived in Ferguson, and raised in Florissant.
- Taylor Momsen
- Marianne Moore (poet): Born in nearby Kirkwood and lived in the St. Louis area until age 16.
- Stan Musial: Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, but played his entire MLB career with the Cardinals and lived in St. Louis County for the rest of his life.
- Nelly: Born in Austin, TX, grew up in St. Louis.
- Dan O'Bannon: Creator of the Alien franchise.
- Angel Olsen (indie singer-songwriter)
- Randy Orton: Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, but raised in and billed out of St. Louis.
- Evan Peters
- Vincent Price
- Joseph Pulitzer: Born in Hungary, made his career in St. Louis (where he founded the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, still the city's most prominent newspaper).
- Dred Scott: The infamous 1857 Supreme Court decision which ruled that African Americans did not count as US citizens and which is often credited as a catalyst for the outbreak of the American Civil War four years later occurred when Scott sued his enslaver for bringing him back to St. Louis (where slavery was legal) after a period in (free) Wisconsin. The courthouse where the case was first tried is still a prominent St. Louis landmark, and a statue of Scott stands outside of it.
- Sexyy Red (rapper)
- Ntozake Shange: Born in Trenton, NJ, lived in St. Louis between ages 8 and 13.
- William Tecumseh Sherman
- Phyllis Schlafly (conservative activist and the subject of Mrs. America)
- Slayyyter (pop singer-songwriter): Grew up in the Kirkwood suburb.
- Jane Smiley (Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist): Born in L.A., grew up in the Webster Groves suburb.
- Phyllis Smith (Phyllis from The Office)
- SZA: Born in St. Louis, grew up in New Jersey.
- Sara Teasdale (poet)
- Tina Turner: Born and mostly raised in Tennessee, but lived in St. Louis at two different times during her childhood and graduated from high school in the city. More significantly, she started her music career in St. Louis.
- Mark Twain: Grew up 100 miles upriver in Hannibal, MO and spent plenty of time in St. Louis throughout his life, especially as a steamboat pilot in the years when the city was a major river port. Today there's a neighborhood in the city named after him.
- Annie Wersching
- Beau Willimon: Born in Alexandria, VA, but mostly raised in St. Louis.note Creator of The Ides of March and the American adaptation of House of Cards. Also a veteran of Jon Hamm's 8th-grade drama class.
- Tennessee Williams: Born in Mississippi, but lived in and around St. Louis from age 8 until graduating from high school.
- Mykelti Williamson
- Both members of 100 gecs
St. Louis in media:
Film — Live Action
- Steven Soderbergh's 1993 film King of the Hill (no relation to the show) is a coming-of-age story set in the city during The Great Depression. The film is based on a memoir of the same name by A.E. Hotchner.
- Meet Me in St. Louis, of course. Specifically the film takes place during the lead-up to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
- The city appears along the travel route of National Lampoon's Vacation.
- Given that it's based on the career of Tina Turner, some of the early sections of What's Love Got to Do with It (1993) take place here.
- Huck and Jim float past St. Louis on their way down the Mississippi in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As mentioned above, Mark Twain frequented the city in his days as a steamboat pilot.
The fifth night we passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit up. In St. Petersburg they used to say there was twenty or thirty thousand people in St. Louis, but I never believed it till I see that wonderful spread of lights at two o’clock that still night.
- St. Louis is Anita Blake's home base.
- In the post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, the site of New Rome—i.e. the new seat of the papacy—is heavily implied to be in what was once St. Louis. (Though it later relocates to Denver.)
- Herman Melville's lesser-known novel The Confidence-Man takes place on a steamboat bound downriver from St. Louis.
- An important (and traumatic) section of Maya Angelou's memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings takes place in St. Louis.
- The novel Jack by Marilynne Robinson (the third sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead) has a St. Louis setting.
- In The Lightning Thief, Percy goes up the Gateway Arch, then in an emergency jumps straight into the Mississippi River. No, really. In real-life, he would have been swatted before he even reaches the street separating the complex from the river, because there's a freaking stairway in front of the arch. A gently sloping stairway.
- The serial killer villain in Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde, lives and works a day job in St. Louis.
- Henry Winter, the leader of the Greek students in The Secret History, is the only child of a St. Louis construction tycoon. The narrator is surprised to learn this, given the group's predilection towards East Coast snobbery.
"If Henry's from St. Louis," I said, "how did he get to be so smart?"
- Sparring Partners by John Grisham is set here and features the skyline on its cover.
- Jonathan Franzen's debut novel The Twenty-Seventh City follows the career of a fictitious St. Louis County police chief. As mentioned above, Franzen himself hails from St. Louis County.
- Defiance is set in the city formerly known as St. Louis — the Gateway Arch survives (and is host to a radio station) while much of the city ended up buried underground.
- The John Larroquette Show is a Work Com set in a St. Louis bus station.
- In The Last Ship, St. Louis becomes the new capital of the United States' restored post-plague federal government, due to its centralized location and the fact that the local government's quarantine actions managed to keep the city's infrastructure and population more intact than anywhere else.
- Masters of Sex, based on the real-life studies of Masters and Johnson at Washington University in the '50s.
- An important first-season episode of Supernatural takes place in the city, and is referred to frequently afterwards.
- The sitcom Work It is about two St. Louis men who see no option but to dress as women to get employed.
- The X-Files episode "Je Souhaite", written and directed by Vince Gilligan, has a St. Louis setting.
- "My Summer Vacation" by Ice Cube tells the story of a drug dealer from Los Angeles who tries to move his operation to St. Louis to get away from the violence and competition on the West Coast. It doesn't end well.
- The W.C. Handy blues standard "Saint Louis Blues" has been performed by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Glenn Miller and many others, in addition to lending its name to several films and the city's NHL team. Handy himself lived briefly in St. Louis.
- The folk and blues standard "Stagger Lee", which has been performed by... well, just about everyone (see the song page for a partial list), is based on a real-life shooting that happened in St. Louis on Christmas Day, 1895.
- The Glass Menagerie, by St. Louis native Tennessee Williams, is set in the city.
- Lackadaisy is set in Prohibition-era St. Louis.
- The Spiral Zone episode "Island in the Zone" is set in St. Louis.