THEN AND NOW: What 10 famous US landmarks looked like when they were first built

The Golden Gate Bridge then and now.

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The Golden Gate Bridge then and now.
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National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain, Travel Stock/Shutterstock

  • The Statue of Liberty was first built in Paris, then shipped to the US in 350 pieces to be rebuilt.
  • The idea for the shape of the Seattle Space Needle started as a doodle drawn on a napkin.
  • St. Louis’ Gateway Arch was originally called the “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Famous monuments, statues, buildings, and bridges may seem like they’ve been around forever. But many well-known US landmarks were constructed more recently than you might think.

Even though some famous landmarks tend to turn into tourist traps, they’re crowded for a reason.

Here’s what 10 US landmarks looked like while they were first being built.


The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France dedicated in 1886 by President Grover Cleveland.

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The Statue of Liberty under construction.
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The statue was first built in Paris in 1884, then shipped to the US in 350 pieces to be rebuilt.


At 305.5 feet, the Statue of Liberty was the tallest iron structure ever built when it was completed.

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The Statue of Liberty today.
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Shutterstock/Matej Hudovernik

The base of the statue contains a plaque with the famous Emma Lazarus poem, “ The New Colossus.”


Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began in 1933 to connect northern California to the San Francisco Peninsula.

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The Golden Gate Bridge in progress.
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National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons

It took four years to complete the bridge, which spans 8,981 feet and weighs 887,000 tons, and another year before it was open to vehicles.


The bridge is painted a custom color called “International Orange.”

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The Golden Gate Bridge as it looks today.
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Travel Stock/Shutterstock

According to NPR, it takes between 5,000 and 10,000 gallons of paint to annually retouch the bridge’s 10 million square feet of steel.


The Empire State building was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1931.

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The Empire State building before it was finished.
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Lewis Hine, The New York Public Library collections

The Empire State building is 1,250 feet tall and has 102 stories. Its 200-foot antenna was added in 1950.


The New York City landmark attracts around 3.5 million visitors every year.

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The Empire State Building rises above the rest.
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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The building is also a mainstay in pop culture thanks to movies like “King Kong” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”


Mount Rushmore was sculpted from 1927 to 1941.

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Mount Rushmore under construction.
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U.S. National Park Service

Gutzon Borglum crafted 60-foot sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.


It’s a bucket-list item for anyone who loves monuments and national parks.

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Mount Rushmore as it looks today.
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Wikimedia

Nearly 2.5 million people visited Mount Rushmore in 2016, according to the National Park Service.


The Hoover Dam was the largest dam in the world when it was completed in 1936.

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Columns of Hoover Dam being filled with concrete in 1934.
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Bureau of Reclamation/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Construction of the 726-foot-tall dam began in 1930. It contains over 4 million cubic yards of concrete.


It’s still the highest concrete arch dam in the US.

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The Hoover Dam.
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Wikimedia Commons

Every year, 7 million people visit the Hoover Dam, which powers a hydroelectric power plant.


The Hollywood sign, which was first built in 1923, used to read “Hollywoodland” as an advertisement for a real estate development.

The sign was first built in 1923, but fell into disrepair in the 1940s. The sign was refurbished to display just “Hollywood”in 1949, then demolished and reestablished again in 1978.


Each letter of the sign is 45 feet tall.

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The new and improved “Hollywood” sign.
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Getty Images

Of the 45 million tourists that visit Los Angeles every year, 10 million go to Griffith Park to see the Hollywood sign.


The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, and took only eight months to construct.

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An aerial photo of the Space Needle under construction in 1961.
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Seattle Municipal Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

The idea for the shape of the structure started as a doodle that Seattle hotel executive and chief organizer of the 1962 World’s Fair Edward E. Carlson drew on a napkin.


It remains a defining feature of the Seattle skyline since it opened.

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The Seattle skyline featuring the Space Needle and Mt. Rainier.
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canadastock/Shutterstock

A visit to the observation deck will give you panoramic views of downtown Seattle all the way to Mount Rainier.


Construction of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch began in 1963, and the monument was finished two years later.

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The Gateway Arch under construction in 1965.
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Seattle Municipal Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had dedicated land for a “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial” in 1935. It was rebranded “Gateway Arch National Park.”


It may not look like it, but the arch is 630 feet tall by 630 feet wide.

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The Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
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amolson7/Shutterstock

The “Journey to the Top” experience includes a four-minute tram ride up to the observation deck where tourists can see views up to 30 miles in every direction on a clear day.


The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, was constructed in Chicago in 1974.

The building was built as a headquarters for Sears, Roebuck and Company, which was the world’s largest retailer at the time.


The tower is one of the tallest buildings in the world at 1,450 feet and 110 floors.

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The Willis Tower in Chicago’s skyline.
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Reuters/Jason Reed

The name was changed to “Willis Tower” in 2009 when Willis Group Holdings leased 140,000 square feet of space including naming rights for 15 years.


It took 14 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge, from 1869 to 1883.

At 1,595 feet long, it was the longest bridge in the world until 1890, when the Forth Bridge was completed in Scotland.


The Brooklyn Bridge has earned the nickname “Times Square in the Sky.”

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The Brooklyn Bridge.
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TTstudio/Shutterstock

An average of 13,196 people cross the bridge on weekdays, and 32,453 people on weekends, according to the New York Times.