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A biography about the Gateway Arch

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The Gateway Arch

Arching Over St. Louis 

by Emma Greenspan 

To Eero Saarinen, who was unable to see his vision completed, but has instead given the joy to America

The Gateway Arch

Arching Over St.Louis 





by Emma Greenspan


Emma Greenspan


Westchester, Today


The Gateway Arch. The knight in shining armor that came to protect St. Louis. With its moat, the Mississippi River, keeping the people from danger, and its towering height of 630 feet, even a pitch black night wouldn’t scare the arch. For the townspeople of St. Louis, there are no pitch black nights anyway, because the armor of steel that their knight wears reflects even the slightest hint of moonlight. Always standing on its own two feet, never moving, the Gateway Arch is not only a knight, but a king, ruling the city.


Standing in front of the arch, almost everyone probably thinks that everyone else that is gazing at the Gateway Arch thinks that it’s gorgeous. Today if you go to St. Louis, that may be the case, but during the arch’s history, not everyone was on board with the idea and design. Not agreeing to something doesn’t make you wrong, it just makes you different. Everybody is different, and we all see the world through different points of view, with different opinions that are never wrong just because they are different, just like people are not wrong because they stand out or are too scared to stand at all.



The Gateway Arch, St. Louis Arch, The Arch, all verbally mean the same thing to us as a country, but all mentally mean different things to us as individuals. After learning about the Gateway Arch, I’ve learned that it is more than just a structure. Some people feel connected to it as a passageway to the west, as it was first envisioned to be. Others feel that the arch is a connection to our history. Some people just think that it is a national monument so they feel like they should know a little about it. What the people standing in front of the arch don't know, is how many people had or have a personal connection to the Gateway Arch.




Luther Ely Smith

Attorney and Civic Leader 

St. Louis, December 15, 1933


In the 1920’s, a man named Luther Ely Smith was appointed to build the George Rogers Clark Memorial by his old college pal. Ten years later when Smith was still working on the memorial, he heard news of the United States government wanting to make a memorial for Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. On his way home from one of the meetings concerning the George Rogers Clark Memorial, he passed by St. Louis and saw an ideal place for the memorial for Thomas Jefferson by the Mississippi River.


He was so eager that he went straight to Bernard Dickmann, who was the mayor of St. Louis at the time. Mayor Dickmann was enthusiastic about Smith’s proposal as well, and the two men went to see civic leaders. Once again the suggestion was accepted in an agreeable manner.


This was only the beginning. Luther Ely Smith was appointed to chair a committee that would further explore the idea to renovate the waterfront into a park. This group of intelligent minds would also try to establish a national expansion memorial in honor of Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. Smith was chairman from 1934, when the committee was officially chartered, until 1949.


Franklin D. Roosevelt

President of the United

States of America

Washington D.C.,

June 15, 1934


On March 4, 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt became president. Shortly before, Luther Ely Smith, Bernard Dickmann, and many others had agreed on the ultimate location for the memorial that the U.S. government wanted to make in honor of Thomas Jefferson, and the Louisiana Purchase. Now, President Roosevelt knew that he would be in charge of this memorial


This was how it came to be that only a year after being elected to be head of our nation, on June 15, 1934 President Roosevelt signed a bill. This bill would allow the U.S. Territorial Expansion Memorial Committee to make plans for a national memorial. The remembrance of Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and westward national expansion is what this memorial would stand for.


Later, on December 21,1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial by signing Executive order 7253. This memorial would be at the site of the Spanish Colonial Office where the Upper Louisiana Purchase was transferred to the United States of America. The Government House where a captain in the U.S. army took possession of the Louisiana Purchase and raised the American flag would be at this location as well.


John L. Nagle

Superintendent of

the National Park

Service in St. Louis

St. Louis,

June, 1936


In June, 1936, a new National Park Service office was constructed in St. Louis. This office was made to develop the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and John L. Nagle was decided to be the superintendent. As part of development, the office had to research practically everything! Specifically, they had to look in to the history of the area that Luther Ely Smith had found for the soon-to-be-created park and the history of St. Louis.


As for good news, the office had plenty because they got rights for the land where they wanted the memorial. Also, when the office considered the Old Courthouse to be part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the mayor approved. Next, the deed to the Old Courthouse was given to the U.S. government.


The National Park Service office wanted to have more to add to the memorial though; Just the Old Courthouse certainly wasn't enough. Then, the people at the office decided to start to make plans for a museum. This way, any tourists or locals that came to the memorial and wanted to learn could find out about the early history of the American West and the Louisiana Purchase.


Geneva Abbott

A Student Asked What

the Future St. Louis

Should Look Like

St. Louis,



In 1933, a high school student drew a sketch that would one day be famous. Geneva Abbott was a student at a St. Louis high school and was asked to draw an illustration of what she thought the future St. Louis was going to look like. Though it sounds like an easy task because, of course, nobody expects you to be right, Abbott thought very deeply before producing her drawing.


Abbott first drew the coast of the Mississippi River just like it was every time she saw it. Next she drew an arch parallel to the river. The arch was shining as if it were metal instead of paper. Also,the arch was huge; It towered above the city as if it were reaching towards the sky.


More than ten years after Geneva Abbotts imaginative drawing, Eero Saarinen submitted a design for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition. Eero Saarinen received first place for his plan for a shining arch. Not only this, but the structure was to be built directly next to the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Now, Abbotts drawing seems a little more than imaginative.


 Eero Saarinen

The Architect

St. Louis,



Eero Saarinen was a Finnish-American architect that in his lifetime designed the United Nations building in New York! He also designed the Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. This wasn't all; Saarinen even designed the TWA terminal at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and quite a few other buildings.


Then came a competition for a monument that would be featured in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. Saarinen decided to enter the contest with a design for a 630 foot tall arch-shaped monument. Eero Saarinen won! Saarinen said, that when he had drawn up plans for the arch, “The major concern...was to create a monument which would have lasting significance and would be a landmark of our time...” Not only that, but by taking first place, he beat out one hundred seventy two other applicants, including his own father!

One of the many reasons that Saarinen won was that when the judges were considering their choices, they wanted to find a monument that would be compatible with the Old Courthouse. This was because the National Park Service office in St. Louis had already decided that the structure chosen in the competition would later be built practically next to the Old Courthouse. The design for an arch, the judges decided, would appear very pleasant next to the cupola of the Old Courthouse.

Eliel Saarinen

The Architect’s Father

St. Louis,



Eliel Saarinen was an incredible architect and passed it on to his son, Eero Saarinen. Some of the structures the elder Saarinen designed in his lifetime were: the Finnish Pavillion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, Saint Paul's Church in Tartu,Estonia, and The Fenton Community Center in Fenton,Michigan. He even designed Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo,New York as a collaboration between him and his son, Eero Saarinen.


When Eero Saarinen won the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition, he beat out one hundred, seventy-one opponents--and his father. Eliel Saarinen was a prominent architect of his time. Even better, he had great passion and love for his job. So, when he heard about a contest for a monument, him and his son alike were thrilled.

On the night that the winner was to be announced, the Saarinen family was gathered together, each family member with a great amount of hope. Finally, the winner was announced! Eliel Saarinen had won! The family cheered and someone broke out a bottle of champagne. Then, the phone rang. It was an official from the contest. He was extremely apologetic to Eliel when he said that there had been a mixup, and the winner was actually the younger Saarinen.The true winner was Eero Saarinen! Without hesitation the winner’s father broke out a second bottle of champagne while congratulating his son.

Adalberto Libera

Someone Against Using the Winning Design for the Arch

St. Louis,



Almost everyone was thrilled that Eero Saarinen won. Adalberto Libera was anything but. Nearly right after the winner was announced as Eero Saarinen, Libera tried to sue him.


Libera was an Italian architect that claimed that Eero Saarinen had stolen his idea. The design that Libera argued Eero Saarinen had took as his own was not a design that Adalberto Libera had submitted to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition, but a design that Libera had claimed was used quite some time earlier. Libera was fabricating details in order to make his case seem believable!

Saarinen of course denied that he had plagiarized Libera's idea, but he did say, "How can anyone really claim credit for what has been around for thousands of years? It's universal, in so many ways." Obviously, Saarinen's design for a glorious 630 foot-tall arch was not shattered by Libera's accusations, because the story of the arch keeps going.


Libera vs. Saarinen


Ed Hoffmeister


Underneath the

Gateway Arch



After visiting the Gateway Arch, I knew I had to somehow put all I had felt down in words. When I was standing there, I couldn't take my eyes off of it, but I also was hardly seeing it at all. I had wanted to meet the arched structure, so I could question it’s beauty. I wanted to know everything I could find out.


I felt like I was back in time, seeing it as a mere idea in an architects brain, then seeing it as a design, being accepted. I saw all it stood for, all it meant and all it means. I thought of the great explorers, Lewis and Clark and later knew that it was time to go.


When I got back home after visiting St. Louis, I knew what to write, but not how to write it. Then, I knew. “...And I asked the arch, way up above, Why these men left all their comforts of home... like me, did they just itch to roam. Gateway Arch. St. Louis Arch. I wish you could bring their answers to me. My eyes came back down to the scene, Where the Mississippi flows on its march...And I bid farewell to the arch. Gateway Arch. St. Louis Arch. You're just like that Rainbow Bridge in the west.”


Tracy Campbell

History Professor and Author

St. Louis,



In 2013, Tracy Campbell told the world the story of the Gateway Arch, when he wrote the book The Gateway Arch:The Biography. In his book, Campbell describes new facts about how the arch is surviving in our always changing world. Also, the book discusses the people involved with the building, designing, overseeing, etc., of the incredibly historic monument known as the Gateway Arch.


Campbell received a Pulitzer prize for his book’s incredibly educating content. The book does not only inform the readers about facts though. It also includes some myths and some stories, some new and some old, some true and some just meant for the entertainment of the readers.

Just like a person can have a biography about them, a building or structure grows as it goes from a mere idea to something someone can look at and know about. Tracy Campbell may have never talked to the Gateway Arch, but that doesn't mean that he can't know it literally and figuratively, inside and out. Now, everyone else can take a trip to St. Louis through Campbell’s book.

Width, Weight, Height and More:


Height: 630 ft

Number of Stories Tall: 63

Width at Base: 630 ft

Width of Legs at Base: 54 ft

Width at Top: 17 ft

Amount of Money it Cost to Build: about $13,000,000

Total Weight: about 43,000 tons

Total Weight of Steel: 5,199 tons

Total Weight of Concrete: 38,107 tons

Number of Steps in Each Leg: 1,076 steps

Depth of Foundations: 60 ft

Number of Stainless Steel Sections: 142

Speed of Trams: 340 ft per minute

How Far You Can See From the Top on Clear Days: up to 30 miles

How Large the Entire Memorial is: about 91 acres





Timeline of the Arch




Airplane Across the Arch


"...More than just a structure"


The Gateway Arch took a journey from a mere idea, to a 630-foot reality. Those who impacted and effected the path that the arch took left an impact 100 times larger than the structure itself. In this sequential story surrounding a significant structure, the real reasons are revealed.





About the Author

Emma Greenspan is a student in Westchester County. She loves to dance and bake, and spends most of her time doing one or the other.  Traveling is another major obsession. She was named after Jane Austen’s book entitled Emma.