Born in 1800, Shaw was an Englishman who arrived in St. Louis in 1819 and prospered in the hardware business. He was a wealthy man by age 39 and began traveling extensively in Europe, where he was inspired to create a garden on his country estate, half a day's ride from downtown St. Louis.
From its inception, Shaw planned his garden for the enjoyment of the public and the advancement of botany. This vision formed the three-fold commitment that still drives the Garden today: research, education, and horticultural display.
Shaw sought the counsel of eminent scientists, including Sir William Jackson Hooker, director of England's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Hooker advised Shaw, as did two leading American botanists, Asa Gray at Harvard and Dr. George Engelmann, a German-born St. Louis physician. Engelmann became Shaw's scientific advisor and was instrumental in persuading him to expand his original concept to include a botanical library and a herbarium.
When the Missouri Botanical Garden opened in 1859, it quickly developed a national reputation as a major cultural attraction. Today it encompasses magnificent display gardens, rare collections of botanical, horticultural, and archival materials, and buildings valued for their architectural and historical significance.
Through Shaw's foresight and support, the Garden also grew as a scientific institution, initially guided by botanist William Trelease, who succeeded Shaw as director in 1889. In 1885 Shaw endowed the school of botany at nearby Washington University and established the George Engelmann Professorship, a position to be held by subsequent Garden directors.
Following Henry Shaw's example, the people of St. Louis have played a major role in the Garden's history with their generous support for the past 142 years. Today St. Louisans still affectionately call it "Shaw's Garden."