Located on the West bank of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, Missouri sits the tallest man made monument in the Western Hemisphere. Its called the Gateway Arch and its stands just over 630 feet tall. It was built for two main reasons back in the early ’60s, to create jobs, and maybe most importantly to commemorate the Westward Expansion of the great Nation of the United States.
Construction began on the massive Arch, which happens to be the tallest arch in the world, on February 12, 1963. It was designed by Eero Saarinen who was an architect from the U.S., with Finnish ancestry. The project would take over two years to complete as the last piece was lowered into place on October 28, 1967. The cost of the monument was reported to be right around $13 million which is the equivalent of $190 million today. However it was not opened to the public until June of 1967.
Even though most of the construction process took place at least a few hundred feet of the ground, there wasn’t a single casualty. Not only was the project completed with a stellar safety record, but it was also completed on time and maybe more importantly on budget. This was thanks to the stellar coordination and cooperation of hundreds of workers.
Most people don’t realize that you go inside the arch. You can ride a tram that will take you all the way to the top where there’s windows that provide a spectacular view. I remember going there on vacation when I was a child and being blown away that you could go inside it. Its definitely a lot bigger on the inside than most people would expect. Even as a child I remember appreciating the view, and kids don’t do that kind of stuff so that should tell you how special it really is. The Tram system that transports visitors to and from the top of the arch was paid for by the Bi-State Department (BSD) at a reported $2 million. They were asked to finance the project and did so by selling revenue bonds.
As stated before the Gateway Arch stands roughly 630 feet tall, but also it happens to be 630 feet wide as well. It’s built out of carbon steel and concrete to provide strength, then covered in stainless steel skin to be more aesthetically pleasing. There was more stainless steel used on this project than any other in History. The way the arch was constructed they started at the base of each side and then worked their way up. That meant the two parts would eventually meet in the middle at the highest point of the arch. Engineers had to be so precise with the placement of each base, apparently they had an engineering tolerance of less than 1/64th of an inch or the two legs would not line up properly.
It was built to withstand any sort of trouble mother nature could throw it also, it’s said to be resistant to earthquakes. The one thing engineers were slightly concerned about was the wind. They addressed that by building the arch so that it could sway one direction or the other depending on wind direction. How much it sways was actually quite surprising, a full 18 inches and can apparently withstand winds over 150mph! When you ride to the top in the tram system you can actually feel the building move back and fourth.
Shortly after the Arch was completed there was a proposal made that would illuminate the arch but unfortunately it never happened. It wasn’t until the late ’90s that a lighting system was finally approved. The St. Louis’ Gateway Foundation agreed to take responsibility for the cost of the installation and the equipment as well as its upkeep in July of 1998. When Pope John Paul II came to the city in January of 1999, MSNBC made arrangements for a temporary lighting system to create a better background image.
In honor of breast cancer awareness month the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would allow the arch to be illuminated in pink on October 5th 2004. Originally the National Parks Service has issues with the bill because they were concerned that the arch would be used for advertising versus accentuating its beauty. The only other time it was used in this manor was back in September of 1995 when a Rainbow Spectrum was projected on th arch to promote the debut of Wizard of Oz on Ice put on by the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
More than four million people visit the Gateway Arch each year and have done since the late ’60s. Its become one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. Of those four million people, its believed that a quarter of them ride the tram to the top to enjoy the view. It was placed on the list of Historic Landmarks in 1987 and later the National Register of Historic Places. Its one of those things that is very difficult to explain, you really just need to see it with your own eyes. Its sort of like trying to explain how big and vast the Grand Canyon is. So the next time you’re in St. Louis, go ahead and stop in to see the Gateway Arch, after all it is an American Icon.
Lightning striking the ARch