25 Interesting Facts About the St. Louis Gateway Arch

by ExploreDecor

Interesting facts about the St. Louis Arch that you may not know.

The St. Louis Arch

The St. Louis Gateway Arch is located at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park in St. Louis, Missouri. Built as a memorial and labeled "the gateway to the west", the arch was listed as a National Historic Landmark on June 2, 1987.

While visiting the arch, you can ride the tram to the top of the arch, look out the windows and see for miles and miles.

The Museum of Westward Expansion is located underground below the arch. The museum has many artifacts and exhibits depicting the life of the American Indians and the 19th century pioneers. There are also theatres in the museum where you can watch interesting and educational films. Be sure and watch the film that shows the construction process of the arch.

I live about 2 hours from the arch and have been there a few times. Even though I am terribly afraid of heights, I have been to the top of the arch and it wasn't scary at all. If you are ever in the St. Louis area, the arch is one place that you don't want to miss. It is truly amazing.

Construction of the Arch

 1.) In 1935, the St. Louis Riverfront was chosen for a national monument in honor of the westward expansion of the United States. Buildings were cleared on 40 city blocks to begin the memorial; however the progression ceased due to World War I.

 2.) The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association held an architectural competition in 1947 for the design of the memorial.

 3.) Finland born architect Eero Saarinen won the contest with his design of a catenary curved arch. A catenary curve hangs freely from two fixed points and is flexible but it will not stretch.

 4.) Construction on the arch began on February 12, 1963 and the completion date was October 28, 1965.

 5.) The arch stands 630 feet tall and is 630 feet wide at the base, which makes it the tallest man-made monument in the United States.

 6.) The arch is made out of 886 tons of stainless steel.

 7.) The weight of the concrete in the arch totals 38,107 tons.

 8.) The arch has 142 triangular sections positioned on top of one another and welded on the inside and outside.

 9.) The arch is 63 stories tall and each story is 10 feet.

10.) Each leg is 54 feet long at the bottom and the sections taper to 17 feet at the very top.

11.) To place the last four-foot piece at the top of the arch, the legs were jacked apart with more than 500 tons of pressure.

12.) Under normal weather conditions, the arch will not sway. The wind has to blow 50 miles per hour for the top of the arch to move 1 1/2 inches from the center. The design of the arch allows for an 18 inch sway and to withstand an earthquake.

13.) There are six 1/2 by 20 inch lightning rods plus an aircraft light on the top of the arch.

14.) The cost to build the arch totaled 13 million dollars.

St. Louis riverfront after demolition of warehouses. c. 1942
St. Louis riverfront after demolition...
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial...

The Tram System in the Arch

14.) Dick Bowser created the tram system that carries visitors to the top of the arch. He developed this system in just two weeks.

15.) After the first tram was completed, the arch opened to the public on June 10, 1967.

16.) Each leg of the arch has one tram with 8 capsules that hold 5 passengers each.

17.) The tram runs at a speed of 340 feet per minute and it takes approximately 4 minutes to get up to the top of the arch.

18.) The tram system can make as many as 80 trips each day and during the off-season in the winter, the trams make 48 trips to the top each day. At full capacity the trams carry 200 to 225 passengers every hour.

19.) There are 1076 steps in the arch; however these steps are not accessible to the public. The steps are only used for emergencies and maintenance. There are also two emergency elevators in the arch.

20.) The tram works like an elevator and a ferris wheel combined. Each capsule measures five foot in diameter and is shaped like a barrel. Each capsule has an opening in the front and a closed back. The back of each capsule is constructed with a center pivot shaft and a frame with rollers encircles the open front. The frame has wheels that run in tracks and the capsule rotates along the frame. The weight of the passengers assists in keeping the capsule upright.

21.) While traveling to the top of the arch, each capsule rotates about 155 degrees. The frame pivots around the capsule and at the loading area the tracks are above the capsule. When the capsule reaches the top of the arch, the tracks are below the capsule.

Tram car, Gateway Arch
Tram car, Gateway Arch
Robert Lawton
Tram interior
Tram interior
Daniel Schwen
North tram upper station
North tram upper station
Daniel Schwen
Observation deck
Observation deck
Daniel Schwen

The Observation Area At The Top Of The Arch

22.) The observation area measures 65 feet long by 7 feet 2 inches across by 6 feet 9 inches high. The observation area holds up to 160 people at a time.

23.) There are 16 windows on each side of the observation area. While looking out the windows on the east side, visitors can view the Mississippi River and the state of Illinois. If looking out the windows on the west side, visitors can see the city of St. Louis.

24.) Each hinged and locked window measures 7 inches by 27 inches. The windows are made out of 3/4 inch plate glass.

25.) In the observation area, visitors can see up to 30 miles when weather permits and the sky is clear.

Updated: 02/06/2012, ExploreDecor
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Ethan on 03/26/2017

For number 1, based on the date shouldn't it be World War II, not World War I?

anna on 01/11/2017


Paco on 12/20/2015

You're both dodo birds, but my friend is a mermaid and her friend is a alien and lastly I own a unicorn named Sparklez.

yoloooooooooooooooooo on 12/02/2014


hisenisia alisaby on 12/01/2014

I am a bad boy I thont care abot anyding bi don't no how to spel


2 much wrds don't like reding

jamie the cool person on 11/17/2014

the arch makes my hot bod look fat

billy on 09/10/2014

did you know it was made by ancient mermaids with the help from space aliens

ExploreDecor on 03/09/2012

The arch really is something that everyone should see at least once. Every time I travel through St. Louis I just have to stare at the arch until it's out of my view.

katiem2 on 03/09/2012

This is on my travel list as I've yet to take my kids to see the arch yet. I remember when I went as a kid, its really a cool memory and as you've helped us to understand there are a lot of interesting facts that are a great teaching moment while the kids experience a really cool architectural wonder.

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