Missouri History Museum's '250 in 250' Exhibit Is A Captivating and Compelling Look at St. Louis History

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Fifty people, 50 places, 50 images, 50 moments and 50 objects: That’s how the Missouri History Museum is presenting 250 years of St. Louis history in their newest multimedia exhibit, “250 in 250,” part of the yearlong celebration in honor of the city’s 250-year anniversary opening today.

J.D. Perry Lewis, who built St. Louis' first battery-powered horseless vehicle around 1893 Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

J.D. Perry Lewis, who built St. Louis’ first battery-powered horseless vehicle around 1893
Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

The exhibit tells a complex story effectively. Actually, it tells 250 stories, and each of them fascinating. There are some of the usual suspects, of course—it wouldn’t be St. Louis’ history if you didn’t display Lindbergh’s flight suit or a St. Louis Browns uniform—but much of the exhibit comes as a delightful surprise, whether it’s an artifact or a story behind a vaguely familiar name. Consider J.D. Perry Lewis, who built St. Louis’ first battery-powered horseless vehicle around 1893. He tells the story (an actor supplies the recorded voice) of his first drive out of his garage. Streetcars stopped to watch the oddity pass and horse-drawn carriages followed him to Forest Park. On the return trip, Lewis’ auto broke down three blocks from home, but curious neighbors pushed him the remainder of the way. It’s a simple and charming story, and in the museum’s presentation, utterly captivating.

"Chuck Berry's Bandstand." Irving Williamson, 1966

“Chuck Berry’s Bandstand.” Irving Williamson, 1966
Courtesy Missouri History Museum

One of two films being presented as part of the exhibit presents 250 St. Louis moments in 250 seconds. It leaves you wondering why St. Louisans are so obsessed with the 1904 World’s Fair. There is so much more to St. Louis history, like the first public transportation, the first free school and first university west of the Mississippi, and the first arched steel truss bridge in the world, to name just a fraction of St. Louis firsts. “250 in 250” shows the truly diverse and uncommonly rich history of the city we call home.

Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

Our intrepid writer is magically inserted into historical St. Louis photo in a free gift to all visitors.
Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

In one exhibit there is a baby tooth with a story. It’s the story of the St. Louis baby tooth survey, when in 1963, parents sent their children’s baby teeth in to be tested for radiation in a study conducted by the Greater St. Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information. Tests revealed the teeth had 50 times higher radiation levels than they did in 1950. When John F. Kennedy was presented with the test results, it led to his signing the International Test Ban Treaty. All that information came from just wondering what a tooth was doing in the museum. That’s just one exhibit. There are 249 to go.

“250 x 250” continues until February 2015. For more information, visit the Missouri History Museum website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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