Gateway Arch (St. Louis, Missouri)

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Image of Gateway Arch construction

The Gateway Arch construction began in 1963 and took just over two years to complete. (Source: National Park Service)

Also known as the Gateway to the West, the Gateway Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM) in St. Louis, Missouri. Construction began February 12, 1963 and was completed October 28, 1965. The cost? $13 million (nearly $96 million in 2012 dollars).

Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, the arch stands 630 feet high, making it the tallest man-made monument in the US. It sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

The Gateway Arch was actually 20+ years in the making. The location for the monument was selected in 1935, and nearly 40 city blocks were purchased and buildings cleared. Due to World War II the project was halted. In 1947 the JNEM held a nationwide competition in hopes to find the best design for the Memorial. The winner was famed Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen. Saarinen died in 1961, having never seen the result of his design.

Image of travel capsule in Gateway Arch

Visitors ascend the Arch in a capsule. A round-trip ride takes 10 minutes. (Image Credit: Robert Lawton via Wikipedia)

Below the arch is an underground visitor center which includes the Museum of Westward Expansion.

Many describe the arch – its design and construction – as nothing short of magnificent. The stainless steel faced structure is the shape of an inverted catenary curve (described as the shape that would be formed by a heavy chain hanging freely between two supports). The legs are equilateral triangles, the sides measuring 54 feet long at ground level and tapering to 17 feet long at the top. The arch contains 5,199 tons of steel and 38,107 tons of concrete. It’s protected by six lightning rods and an aircraft obstruction light.

Visitors can ascend the Arch via a 40-passenter train made of eight five-person capsules, which travels from underground through the structure’s legs. The ride lasts about 10 minutes round trip. An observation deck features plate-glass windows which provide viewing in east and west directions. Each leg also hosts a private stairway containing 1,076 steps.

The Gateway Arch is a major tourist attraction. By January 1969 one million people had traveled to the top. On August 24, 1979, the ten-millionth person ascended. Today, more than four million people visit the monument annually, with about one-fourth of them traveling to the observation platform.

Image of completed Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch opened to the public on June 10, 1967, just over 18 months after its structural completion. (Source: National Park Service)

The Arch also attracts daredevils and stuntmen. Through the years many pilots have guided their planes through the curve, and parachuters have landed atop the structure. Base jumps have also been attempted. (In 1980 an Overland, MO man parachuted to the top of the arch with plans to use his reserve parachute to reach the ground. But he lost his footing and slid down the north leg to his death).

The Gateway Arch was dubbed a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While standard maintenance and repair has been performed over the years, the structure remains as sound as the years it was built.


Last updated: Oct 25, 2012
Filed under: Landmarks & Monuments, Retro Museum Tagged with: architecture, construction, landmarks, monuments