The cornerstone for Cupples I was laid May 11, 1901, and the building was leased to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company for use during the 1904 World's Fair under the name of Service Building. The architects were the Philadelphia firm Cope & Stewardson, represented by James P. Jamieson. The general contractor was Bright Construction Company. These companies worked together on other early campus buildings. It was occupied by the University in February 1905 and was first used for civil engineering and architecture. It is now used by the Department of Mathematics in Arts & Sciences.
Born on September 13, 1831, Samuel Cupples was a St. Louis woodenware merchant and business partner of Robert S. Brookings. With the Brookings Brothers, Cupples grew his company to enormous proportions. He also built "Cupples Station" in downtown St. Louis to aid in the transport of goods from the river to the railroad; the station became a most valuable asset to St. Louis merchants. In 1900, Cupples, with the agreement of Brookings, turned all company assets totaling $4 million over to the University in addition to funds for the construction of three new buildings: this building Cupples I, Cupples II Hall and the Cupples Engineering Building, which was torn down in 1967 to make room for Bryan Hall. Cupples also served on the board of directors at Washington University.