In the first four decades of the nineteenth century, the St. Louis levee was a center for incoming goods and outgoing trappers who dreamt of harvesting furs in the West. St. Louis was originally chosen as a fur trading site by Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau in 1764 due to river access and suitable elevation above the Mississippi. By 1809 St. Louis was the hub of Western trade. Manuel Lisa and his Missouri Fur Company operated a very successful trading business.
From St. Louis, trader William Ashley brought goods to trade out to the mountain men's rendezvous sites in the far west. He supplied gunpowder, lead, blankets, tobacco, knives, traps, beads, and trade whiskey. He was paid in beaver pelts, items that would fetch between $6.00-$9.00 a piece.
By 1821, the fur trade industry in St. Louis accounted for $600,000 of its $2,000,000 economy. Many people decided to stay in St. Louis, which caused a growth in population from 16,000 to 77,000 people by 1850. However, when the beaver was no longer demanded by the fashion industry, the mountain man's livelihood changed. Traders lost a large part of their business and the impact of this loss was tremendous to the St. Louis economy; but the needs of supplying the overland emigrants soon made up for the loss of fur trade revenues.