Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM) was created in 1935, and became part of the National Park Service.
Civic leader Luther Ely Smith conceived the idea of building a memorial to help revive the riverfront and memorialize the story of the nation’s westward expansion. Through a nationwide design competition conducted 1947–1948, Eero Saarinen’s stainless steel Arch was chosen as the memorial that would celebrate the accomplishments of early pioneers. St. Louis celebrated with a groundbreaking on June 23, 1959.
Over the next few years, Saarinen perfected his design and workers began excavating the grounds in 1961.
In 1962, the Bi-State Development (BSD) was asked to finance the $2 million tram system that transports visitors to and from the top of the Arch. Meanwhile, it took steadfast coordination to put every piece of the Arch into place until the final section at the top of the Arch was secured on October 28, 1965.
Trams became operational in 1967, thanks to the funds that BSD raised by selling revenue bonds. In the same year, the Visitor Center, with exhibits, opened to the public.
Less than a decade later, the massive Museum of Westward Expansion opened beneath the Arch, featuring exhibits on St. Louis’ role as the Gateway to the West. Improvements to the monument continued as engineers added floodlights to illuminate the Arch exterior in 2001. Approximately two years later, the Grand Staircase, which spans from the levee at the Mississippi River banks to the base of the Arch, was completed.
In 2009, a non-profit organization called CityArchRiver 2015 spearheaded a project that will transform JNEM by creating a safe and inviting pedestrian bridge over the highway and a new museum beneath the Arch. After renovations, visitors will also encounter a new entrance to the facility and greater accessibility throughout the grounds. Groups traveling by bus will have more convenient access to drop-offs and parking, as well as to new performance spaces on the grounds. Bicyclists will enjoy extended bike trails.
Today, BSD continues to operate the trams as a cooperative effort with the National Park Service. October 28, 2015 marked the 50th Anniversary of the completion of the Arch.
More Interesting Facts About the Gateway Arch
Thanks to hundreds of workers, the Arch was completed within budget and without the loss of one life. Delve into more details about the Arch with answers to several frequently asked questions.