The city was founded in 1764 just south of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers by colonial French traders Pierre Laclède and René Auguste Chouteau, who named the settlement after King Louis IX of France. The city, as well as the future state of Missouri, became part of the Spanish Empire after the French were defeated in the Seven Years' War. In 1800, the land was secretly transferred back to France, whose leader,Napoleon Bonaparte, sold it to the United States in 1803. Nicknamed the "Gateway to the West" for its role in the westward expansion of the United States, the city gave the moniker in 1965 to the new Gateway Arch built as part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; the arch has become the iconic image of St. Louis.
Once the 4th-largest U.S. city, St. Louis proper has seen its population slip to 52nd.At the peak of the city's influence, St. Louis hosted the 1904 World's Fair and 1904 Olympic Games, both the first of their kind held in the Western Hemisphere.
In the 19th century, immigration from Italy, Germany, Bohemia and Ireland flooded St. Louis, coloring the cuisine and architecture of the city. Many African-Americans moved north to the city during the Great Migration.
St. Louis has been at the forefront of the 21st-century wave of urban revitalization, receiving the World Leadership Award for urban renewal in 2006. In 2008, the U. S.Census Bureau reported St. Louis had a net population gain of 6,172 from the 2000 Census, to 354,361, the first gain the city has had since 1950.
The city contributed to the musical styles of blues, ragtime, and jazz. The St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful Major League Baseball teams, make their home atBusch Stadium. Other professional teams include the St. Louis Rams (football) and St. Louis Blues (hockey). A diversity of successful sports franchises has led to St. Louis being called "North America's Best Sports City." The city's many 19th-century breweries shaped beer in the United States, most notably Anheuser-Busch, Falstaff Brewing Corporation, and Lemp Brewery. The vestiges of French and Spanish colonization make St. Louis one of the largest centers of Roman Catholicism in the United States.
St. Louis lies at the heart of Greater St. Louis, a metropolitan area of nearly three million people in Missouri and Illinois. The Illinois portion is commonly known as the Metro-East. The region is home to some of the country's largest privately held corporations, includingEnterprise Rent-A-Car, Graybar, Scottrade, Edward Jones, and is also home to some of the largest public corporations and corporate divisions, including Emerson, Energizer,Anheuser-Busch InBev (North American Headquarters), Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, Purina, Express Scripts, Charter Communications, Monsanto Company, andWells Fargo Advisers.