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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Nov 27, 2023

In the later part of the nineteenth century, shipping was very much a nightmare. Samuel Cupples and his business partner Robert Brookings were tired of moving their goods to far away rail yards before they could even be put on trains. In 1894, they came up with the revolutionary idea of building warehouses right above rail yards at a downtown location. The result was a massive complex of warehouses which set the industry standard. Many of these buildings are still in use today, just not for their original purposes. Just press play to hear the whole story.  -----

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History on 88-one, KDHX. -----

If you’re at home, take a look around your house and think about all the items you have stashed away in little corners – maybe string, jars, or wrapping paper in your closet, rolling pins and spoons in your kitchen drawers, a broom tucked along the basement stairs… these are the kinds of everyday items that made St. Louis merchant Samuel Cupples a millionaire. He first opened a small household goods shop in 1851, and a half century of constant expansion later, he had built a massive complex called Cupples Station on the south side of Downtown. -----

Before Cupples Station was built, Samuel Cupples and his business partner Robert Brookings had spent decades battling a huge problem – they were selling goods across the country, but spent way too much valuable time just trying to get products onto trains in an organized way. Then they came up with a goldmine idea - what if instead of hauling goods to faraway trainyards, they built warehouses right on top of the trainyards? Trains could pull in, load up, and be on their way – it was sort of like a giant industrial version of today’s fast food drive thru window. -----

From 1894 to 1917, they constructed eighteen gigantic warehouses across ten city blocks, with a web of hidden tracks coursing beneath. Cupples Station was the talk of the nation’s industrialists, urban planners, and architects alike. Journals like the Scientific American proclaimed it the future of shipping, and Inland Architect said the design was so perfect that little improvement was possible. -----

Today, eight of the original eighteen Cupples Station warehouses still stand today left, and thankfully they all have been put to new uses. -----

In a 1997 essay about the complex St. Louis author William Gass admired Cupples Station’s subtle beauty and the play of light on its century-old bricks. He wrote “in architecture, time does not disappear like a truck down a road, it accrues like money in a bank account.” It’s a beautiful image and a great reminder - as with so many other historic buildings around St. Louis, Cupples Station is one of those incredible places that makes our city rich indeed. -----

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX.  I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.