Connect with us


St. Louis Gateway Arch Celebrates Golden Anniversary

October 28, 2015 is the golden anniversary for the St. Louis Gateway Arch; what’s less known is the icon’s 30 year struggle to be built.



Today the iconic St. Louis Gateway Arch, Missouri celebrates it’s 50 year Golden Anniversary. The Arch was “topped off”  fifty years ago on October 28th, 1965. The Gateway Arch, officially a portion of The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, has long since become a familiar American, if not global, icon. Less known, however, is The Arch’s 30 year road to completion and its role in Missourian cultural identity.

St. Louis Gateway Arch: The Gateway to the West

The Gateway Arch, like many other signature American architectural pieces, traces deep roots to the early 1930’s and The Great Depression.

In the dire need to address unemployment during the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation appropriated considerable government spending to create new jobs through public works projects.

Related »
Sunday Brunch: Chinese Seafaring Goddess Mazu turns 1,055

The memorial that would become The Gateway Arch was first conceived as a public works project to achieve that aim.

Luther Ely SmithWikiCommons

Luther Ely Smith

In 1933, attorney and St. Louis civic leader Luther Ely Smith, proposed a massive Mississippi riverfront monument to then St. Louis Mayor Bernard Dickmann. The monument Smith proposed would be dedicated to President Thomas Jefferson and  Lewis and Clark’s historic western expedition which launched from St. Louis in May 1804.

Related »
Haircuts on US Dollar Bills: Ranked

The monument would also salute the city’s standing as a major historical throughput for the many pioneers that followed Lewis and Clark. In short, Smith desired a tangible symbol of the city’s longstanding nickname “The Gateway to the West.”

In late 1933, the monument project was sanctioned by the City of St. Louis in principle. The project was to be located in downtown St. Louis and aimed to create 5,000 new construction jobs.

Additionally, the monument was designed to bring further tourism to the historic city, thus bolstering the city’s economy as a whole. Other than the monument’s desired location, honorees, and economic effect, little else was known about what final shape the project would take.

“The Show Me State”

Missouri Liscense Plate “Show Me State”Mo. DOT

Its right on the license plate!

Though undecided in appearance, the paramount importance of the Gateway Monument’s history is how the final design was chosen.

Missouri’s unofficial state slogan is “The Show Me State;” a statement meant to embody a greater cultural character based on the limitless capability of the individual, their high expectation for success, and belief based on tangible results.

All of these facets form the identity considered vital for those who chose to build a new life on the American western frontier.

Related »
Meet New Duke: Brian Q. Torff on Everything Ellington

Commensurate with Missouri’s enduring ethos, the monument design was generated through an open public submission contest.

The selection process consisted of two elimination rounds and a jury panel of seven members. In essence, the monument’s final design would be the product of the very characteristics it wished to enshrine.

The competition’s first round commenced in September 1947. The initial phase of the contest accumulated 172 design submissions. 

Of these, five proposals were selected as second round finalists. The unanimous winner was the proposal made by the architectural team headed by Eero Saarinen: a stainless steel arch, standing up to 630 feet tall.

Saarinen described his team’s design as representing “the gateway to the west, the national expansion, and whatnot.”

Eero Saarinen and Gatway Arch modelWikiCommons

Eero Saarinen and Gateway Arch model.

The simplicity of the arch shape, constructed primarily from glistening stainless steel, perfectly captured the imagination and symbolism the panel wished to express.

Related »
Gateway To The West Is The Gateway To Chess

A natural form that was understated by design, yet profound in communicating its depth of historical and cultural context.

Gateway Arch: The Gateway to the West Taking the Path Less Traveled

In the 30 years leading to The Arch’s completion, the monument faced obstacles common to major construction projects in urban areas. Issues such as proper federal and city financing, project budgeting, urban planning conflicts, labor relations, legal disputes, and continued community support all played major roles. Construction of The Arch itself did not break ground until February 1963.

The Arch observation portsWikiCommons

The Arch observation ports.

On October 28th, 1965, the construction of The Gateway Arch itself was finished, but the project in its entirety was not yet completed.

Related »
Italian Officials Recover Stolen Van Gogh Paintings From 2002 Heist

To allow for the completion of the visitor tram to the Arch observatory located at its apex, as well as the visitor center located underneath The Arch, the monument would not fully open to the public until July 1967.

Each capsule on the tram is the size of a Star Wars escape podWikiCommons

Each capsule on the tram is roughly the size of a Star Wars escape pod.

The Gateway Arch was dedicated on May 25th, 1968. In a figure adjusted for inflation as of 2013, The Gateway Arch cost $180 million and required roughly 35 years to come to fruition.

The construction phase of The Arch required two and a half years to complete. The construction phase specifically holds a special distinction as it resulted in no worker fatalities.

50 Years Anniversary and Beyond

The St. Louis Gateway Arch was over 30 years in the making, and is officially 50 years old today. In the past 50 years, The Arch has become an unmistakable feature of the American architectural landscape. It is a symbol of St. Louis’ major role in American growth, and a enduring point of pride for Missourian’s as a whole. As of 2002, The Arch hosts an average of four million visitors each year.

Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at

Join the Conversation - Follow TGNR on Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, TumblrPintrest, Instagram, & Flipboard

Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and highly regarded interviewer. Paul K. DiCostanzo is Co-Host for the A.D. History Podcast. The A.D. History Podcast explores world history of the last 2000 years in an unprecedented fashion; with each episode covering a 10 year period beginning in 1AD, until reaching the present day. Ultimately finding the forgotten, as well as overlooked threads of history, and weaving a tapestry of true world history. Paul is author of the reader submitted Q&A column: WW2 Brain Bucket. The Brain Bucket answers readers submitted questions on all things regarding the Second World War. Paul has served as Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy.