How Was the St. Louis Arch Constructed?

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The St. Louis Arch, also known as the Gateway Arch, was built between 1963 and 1965. It was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and built by a team of engineers and construction workers. The arch is made of stainless steel and stands at a height of 630 feet. To construct the arch, a unique method called “top-down construction” was used. This involved building the arch from the ground up using a series of cranes and scaffolding. The arch was then covered with stainless steel panels to create its iconic curved shape. Today, the St. Louis Arch is a symbol of the city and a popular tourist attraction.


Have you ever visited St. Louis, Missouri? If not, maybe you’ve witnessed a televised sporting event, like a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. Whether you have been to St. Louis or only caught glimpses of it on TV, you are likely acquainted with the impressive architectural wonder that dominates its skyline. What are we referring to? The Arch, of course!

Referred to by many as the St. Louis Arch or simply “The Arch,” the official name of this structure is the Gateway Arch. As a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Gateway Arch serves as a tribute to the westward expansion of the United States following Thomas Jefferson’s completion of the Louisiana Purchase.

The Louisiana Purchase added the Louisiana Territory to the United States, providing vast new lands for westward expansion. St. Louis, due to its location on the Mississippi River, played a significant role in this expansion. In many ways, it served as a gateway to the west, thus inspiring the construction of the Gateway Arch.

The Gateway Arch stands at a height and width of 630 feet. Its shape resembles that of a flattened catenary arch. Catenary refers to the shape a freely hanging chain takes when supported at both ends.

Adorned with stunning stainless steel, the Gateway Arch soars above the western bank of the Mississippi River, marking the location where the city of St. Louis was established. It holds the distinction of being both the tallest man-made monument in the United States and the tallest arch in the world.

Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and German-American structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel collaborated on the design of the Gateway Arch in 1947. Construction commenced in February 1963 and concluded in October 1965. The total cost of building the Gateway Arch amounted to approximately $13 million, equivalent to around $97 million in today’s currency.

The primary construction materials employed in the construction of the Gateway Arch were steel and concrete. The exterior surface consists of ΒΌ-inch stainless steel, with an inner layer of 3/8-inch structural steel and a layer of concrete sandwiched between the two steel layers.

The Gateway Arch was erected piece by piece, with a total of 142 sections, on foundations that extend about 60 feet deep. Each section resembled a steel triangle that tapered as they approached the top. Enormous cranes and derricks were used to hoist the sections into position.

Overall, the structure weighs 17,246 tons. If it were not mostly hollow, it would weigh much more. The hollow design reduced the overall weight and allowed for the inclusion of a tram system that transports visitors to the top, where an observation deck with 16 windows on each side offers breathtaking views. On a clear day, one can see approximately 30 miles!

Despite its graceful design, the Gateway Arch possesses robust construction that can withstand an earthquake. It is designed to sway up to 18 inches. However, a wind speed of 50 miles per hour will only cause the structure to move slightly over an inch.

The Gateway Arch holds particular fascination for mathematicians. The cross-sections of the Arch’s legs are equilateral triangles, and its overall geometric form was initially defined by a mathematical equation provided by Bandel.

Since its opening in June 1967, the Gateway Arch has become a well-known attraction for tourists from around the world. Currently, it welcomes over four million visitors annually, with approximately one million individuals making the journey to the top to enjoy the observation deck. In June 1987, the Gateway Arch was officially designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Now, let’s dive into some interactive experiences related to the history and engineering of the Gateway Arch. Feel free to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

1. If you’re curious about the appearance of the Gateway Arch, you can visit the National Park Services’ webpage, which offers a live webcam and various exhibit tours.

2. Have you ever thought about designing a memorial? Consider the notable individuals and events in your local area – your city, county, or state. Choose one aspect that you believe deserves recognition and create a suitable memorial on paper. Remember, your design doesn’t have to be as grand as the Gateway Arch, but it should capture the essence of what you intend to memorialize. Enjoy the process of contemplating history and how it can be incorporated into public art and architecture!

3. Here’s an interesting fact: the design of the Gateway Arch is based on a mathematical equation. If you’re intrigued by this concept, visit the National Parks Service website to discover the precise equation that reveals the construction secret behind the inverted catenary curve forming the Gateway Arch!

These activities provide engaging opportunities to further explore and appreciate the Gateway Arch. Enjoy your journey!

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