Gateway Arch history

The Gateway Arch is one of the main features of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, together with the Old Courthouse and the Museum of Westward Expansion.

Honoring expansion

The memorial area was founded in 1935 in honor of the third US President Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase was a deal Jefferson made between the United States and France, were France sold much of today’s central US to the newly formed country, which effectively more than doubled the size of the United States.

Planning phase

While the memorial area has been around since 1935, the planning of the arch didn’t begin until after the Second World War. In 1947, a nationwide architectural competition for the design of a new monument was held which was won by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. His winning entry was what stands today; the massive Gateway Arch.


The construction of the arch itself began later in 1963; it stood finished in 1965 and was opened to the public two years later. During construction, both two legs were built up simultaneously. The base of each leg at ground level had an pengineering tolerancep of one sixty-fourth of an inch, or else the two legs would not meet at the top, so there was a need of great engineering precision to make it work.

An unexpected problem

The construction team faced another problem when the time came to connect both legs together at the top. The sunlight hitting the south leg caused the metals to expand slightly, which prevented it from aligning precisely with the north leg. In order to solve this problem, the St. Louis Fire Department was called in and sprayed the south leg with water, in which the metal cooled off and the two legs could be united.

Why visit the Gateway Arch ?

The Gateway Arch is an impressive sight and a marvel of engineering. The Gateway Arch is made of a stainless steel skin covering two carbon steel walls. It stands an impressive 192 meters tall and 192 meters wide. While the outside of the arch is certainly impressive, one shouldn’t forget its inside.

Gateway Arch Interior

The interior of the arch is hollow and contains a highly unique transport system which leads to an observation deck at the top. Visitors looking carefully at the top of the arch can actually see the observation deck’s small windows.  The transport system functions as a combination between an elevator and a tram, with a 40-passenger train made up of eight five-passenger capsules in each leg. Each capsule rotates 155 degrees during the trip to the top of the arch. When the capsule starts out from the lower zone the tracks are overhead but as it goes up the arch the tracks then go beneath the capsule.

Stunning view

There is also a conventional elevator reaching halfway up and 1076 stepped stairways for emergency use only. A trip to the top and back takes around 10 minutes. The view from the top is great. On a clear day, one can see up to 48 kilometers, from the City of St. Louis to the west across the Mississippi river and southern Illinois with its Native American culture mounds to the east.

The visitor center

The entrance to the arch is from the underground visitor center, located directly underneath it.  From the visitor center, one can move to either base of the arch and enter the tramway through its narrow double doors. Under the arch, visitors will also find the Museum of Westward Expansion. The museum documents man’s irrepressible urge to explore and the expansion of the United States. This museum is a must for anyone interested in history in general and American history in particular.

A daredevil’s heaven

Throughout the years, the arch has been the place of several notable stunts and events. More than 10 light aircrafts have successfully flow under the arch and people have been trying to scale and land with parachute on top of it, more or less successfully.

A spectacular site

Today, the Gateway Arch has become the iconic image of St. Louis and a gateway between western and eastern US. It is also one of the very tallest monuments in the whole US with its mighty 192m.  Majestic in its concept, magnificent with its surroundings and unique in its execution, the Gateway Arch is something for history books.

Striking detail

Even though the memorial is of huge proportions, much attention has been giving to detail. The irises of the eyes were sculpted as holes with a cube of granite were left inside to represent the reflection highlight.

This is why the eyes of the presidents look so alive and realistic. Visitors who have access to a binocular and take a close look at the sculpture of Roosevelt will see that even his characteristic glasses are present.

Gateway Arch location

The Gateway Arch is located in central United States, in St Louis, Missouri. The arch lies beautifully located on the banks of the Mississippi River. For the exact location of the Gateway Arch, check out the location map to the right!

Gateway Arch Video

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