JNPA Convenes Builders Who Created an Iconic Gateway

By Amanda Keith posted 11-12-2015 02:34 PM


At 630 feet tall along the west bank of the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri is 21 tons of steel and concrete and stands as the entrance to the western half of the United States. As a monument that signifies the starting place of the Lewis and Clark expedition and President Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the American West to the pioneers, this structure is also the tallest monument in the U.S. and brings an average of more than two million visitors annually.

"Gateway Arch in the Spring." - NPS


On October 28, 2015, the arch celebrated its 50th birthday and the National Park Service and park partners put on commemorative events to celebrate: they offered discounted tram rides that sent visitors traveling up the arch legs at 4 mph, they sold limited edition 50th anniversary items and even gave away 1,000 arch-themed birthday cupcakes to event-goers. The date October 28 is special because it signifies the 50th anniversary of the day the final keystone piece was laid to the arch by a dedicated team of builders. To celebrate the achievements of the iron workers, electricians, sheet metal workers, field engineers and others who built the 63 story-high monument, Jefferson National Parks Association (JNPA) held its annual Meet the Builders event and introduced the builders to the public.

JNPA, a Cooperating Association that supports the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as well as eight other public land sites, has convened Gateway Arch builders for the last 13 years. This year, 32 men, ages 60 - 90, showed up at the Missouri History Museum to shake hands, swap stories and show off artifacts from their days at work -- items such as tin lunchboxes and photographs of the men getting haircuts on top of the arch.

According to Liz Forrestal, JNPA's Senior Director of Programs, JNPA has been the “keeper of the flame” for the list of builders to invite each year since 2002. “Record-keeping of the builders [in the 1960's] was not the best,” Liz said. To grow the list, JNPA relied on the publicity of the event to bring other builders forward and, since the start, has connected with 60+ builders who helped make the monument a reality.

"JNPA is very proud to host events like Meet the Builders," Liz said. "It’s a unique way for fans of the Arch to make a personal connection with the men who built the nation’s tallest monument. Being able to put a face on those associated with historic achievements builds lasting memories for visitors. And the builders themselves come to appreciate just how much we all value their contributions."


Gateway Arch builders pose for a group photo at the Missouri History Museum 


For the 50th anniversary, JNPA also invited steel workers from the manufacturing plant in Warren, Pennsylvania. “These men in Pennsylvania had never met the guys in St. Louis to whom they shipped the pieces,” Liz said. For this year’s event, they not only met, but the Pennsylvania visitors got a tour of the arch with park officials and joined the builders to greet the public.


 Builders sign photographs, construction helmets and retell stories for visitors at the Meet the Builder event  


JNPA successfully brought hundreds of visitors to meet the builders this year and to educate the public about the tremendous accomplishments of this modest crew. However, the event was also met with setbacks; mainly that the arch and its grounds have been under major construction to reinvigorate the park since the Summer of 2014. A $380 million project scheduled to be complete in 2017 proved to be a challenge in celebrating the arch’s 50th anniversary and made it impossible to hold the Meet the Builders event onsite.

A truly collaborative effort, JNPA worked with the Missouri History Museum and hosted the event there, instead. The museum not only helped cover the cost of a meal to thank the builders for their participation but they presented the Arch Perspectives exhibit which showed pictures of the arch throughout its original construction phases and presented a documentary about the innovative design and engineering achievements of the arch.

As JNPA and the park move forward with their work amidst construction, there is question as to whether JNPA can continue Meet the Builder events in the future. “Time is eating us up,” said one of the original iron workers in this KSDK article. As the men grow older, attending this annual event will become difficult. In the future, as less men are available, the question then becomes how can the park, JNPA and other partners preserve these builders’ stories so future generations will learn about their achievements. Liz stated that JNPA plans to partner with the staff at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to record interviews with the builders, and to continue to find ways to bring them in contact with visitors because, as she put forth, "It’s just too valuable an opportunity to overlook." 

To learn more about JNPA, visit them at

To learn more about renovations to the Gateway Arch, visit


Builders during arch construction. The builders worked without tethers or nets to catch them from falling. Despite the project's insurance company projecting 13 deaths, there were no accidents during this project. Photo Credit: NPS