The Gateway to the West

May 08 2018

The Gateway to the West

Published by

The Gate Way to the West
Austin Edge
Movie: The Gateway Arch
Miano, B. Huegerich, S. (Director). (2007). The Gateway Arch [Video file]. Janson Media. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from Kanopy.

Setting the Stage

At the age of just 27 Thomas Jefferson, the third president of a nation in its infancy made a decision that would forever change the face of the United States of America. This decision was to purchase the Louisiana territory from France in the greatest trade deal in the history of trade deals, possibly ever. The Louisiana Purchase allowed for the expansion of the United States west of the Mississippi.

During this time St. Louis Missouri sat on the western edge of the known world. In 1804 Thomas Jefferson sent his personal assistant Meriwether Lewis on an expedition to explore the river system of the newly acquired territory. Lewis recruited the help of his good friend William Clark and together they led the Corp of Discovery west. They departed St. Louis in 1804 covering an estimated 6,000 miles before retuning to St. Louis two and a half year later. What they would report would bring hoards flocking to St. Louis.

Moving West

After news of Lewis and Clarks finding spread throughout the nation Americans and immigrants hastened to head west to the land of milk and honey Lewis and Clark had reported. St. Lewis being on the Mississippi River and being the farthest western city made it the ideal home base for the push westward. Seemingly overnight St. Louis flourished, and steamboats could be seen lining the banks of the Mississippi dropping off wave after wave of pioneers beginning their journey westward. This of course brought big business to St. Louis which prospered in the outfitting business. St. Louis had become the point in which all pioneers began their journey westward, this is how it earned the name “The Gateway to the West”.

A Monument to the West

Flash forward 130 years and St. Louis was longer a bustling city filled with the dreams and ambitions of those bravely pushing west to begin their new lives. It was a city left crippled by the depression which seemingly had no end in sight. One day while returning home to St. Louis Luther Ely Smith gazed upon the banks of the Mississippi and was struck with an idea, an idea to help the city out of its slump. A monument in dedication to the events 130 years prior which had led to the growth of St. Louis. He immediately began to work towards this goal soon later Smith formed the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association with the stated goal of creating:
“A suitable and permanent public memorial to the men who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States, particularly President Jefferson, his aides Livingston and Monroe, the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, and the hardy hunters, trappers, frontiersmen and pioneers who contributed to the territorial expansion and development of these United States, and thereby to bring before the public of this and future generations the history of our development and induce familiarity with the patriotic accomplishments of these great builders of our country.”

The Arch
It would be many years before Smith would secure federal funding to build his monument. In 1947 a design contest was held to decide how this monument would take shape. This contest was won by Eero Saarinen the son of a renowned Finnish architect. His design was like no other submitted.

His design was a towing with glad in shining stainless steel. Saarinen’s arch was sleek, modern, and above all unprecedented. The arch would not just push the limits of construction technology but take a step right over them. This design was truly ambitious and elements of it were highly experimental. In this way the mere building of the arch is a parable of the push west. As the pioneers pushed into the unknown to the west chasing a dream; so did the architects, engineers, and construction workers who erected the arch. It is only fitting that the monument located in “The Gateway to the West” be dubbed “The Gateway Arch”. Construction of the arch would begin in February of 1963 and be completed in October of 1965. The Arch was constructed as the largest manmade monument in the world, a title which it holds to this day. Sadly neither Luther Ely Smith or Eero Saarinen would live to see its completion, however their legacies along with those of the brave pioneers who pushed west will live on, in the towering Gateway Arch.

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