The scientific tourist #77 — at the foot of a giant

Most people, at least in the U.S. will instantly recognize this shot — it’s Seattle’s Space Needle. The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair — at the time it was the tallest structure in North America west of the Mississippi river, and amazingly was built in just over a year.

With the cold war getting pretty hot, and the space race coming up to full throttle, the 1962 World’s Fair theme changed from a “Festival of the [American] West,” to a more modernistic / high-tech affair. The Space Needle was intended to be just one part of this celebration of all things technological and American. But building it presented a problem — it wasn’t financed by the city of Seattle, so it had to be built on land within the fair grounds. A 120 ft x 120 ft plot was uncovered (previously the home of some telecommunications switching gear) barely a year before the fair opened. A hole for the foundation (30 ft. deep and 120 feet across) was dug, and cement poured (467 concrete trucks took a day to fill it). Once the concrete set, construction crews worked around the clock to build the tower — finishing up with the installation of the last elevator the day before the fair opened on April 21, 1962.

While now outgrown by subsequent taller towers, the Space Needle is still a great stop should you ever find yourself in Seattle. It’s open late, gives you great views of downtown and the surroundings, and is built like a tank (to withstand winds equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, or an earthquake of 9 on the Richter scale).

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