It is one of the most famous landmarks in the US and spans three miles across the Golden Gate Channel. Giant and bright it is one of the symbols of San Francisco, but also of the entire nation. This is the Golden Gate Bridge!
After four years of complicated and dangerous work it was completed in 1937 and is now a testament to human intelligence and ingenuity.
Everyone knows the bridge, but not many have heard its great story from conception to the opening day. So, we decided to tell more about it here.
Before the Golden Gate Bridge
Before the bridge, the bay area was connected by ferry services. If we look back to San Francisco from the 19th century, we will see one of the quickest developing cities. But with a lack of reliable and fast transportation, the growth stopped. The car has already been made and was affordable, so the number of cars was also growing which made the situation even worse.
The ferry service was hugely used at the time, but the need for a bridge was already there because people needed to travel more easily and quickly. At first, there was a proposition to build over Fort Point (originally constructed by the Spanish in 1794) at the tip of the channel.
The Project and Construction
Many architects and engineers thought this bridge was an impossible task, especially over such a long channel with strong tides, deep water, fog, and winds. Although there had been many proposals in 1916, a former engineering student James Wilkins proposed a complicated structure with an enormous cost of around $100 million or over $2 billion in new money.
Many said the idea was too pricey or too difficult, but there was one man Joseph Strauss an engineer and poet who believed in it. The start of the project took many years because of the opposition of competitors – the ferry services as well as the War Department. The construction finally began in 1933.It started on January 5th that same year. Up until know, the number of people who worked on the bridge is unknown, but there were ten contractors.
Over time their documents have been lost, so we do not know much about their work. Strauss was very strict about deadlines and schedules and oversaw the project himself. Because of his skills, it was completed in the spring of 1937 under budget.
The opening day was a huge celebration which lasted for over a week, and people received invitations in the mail to enjoy it and take part in the parties marking the occasion. Almost 200,000 people had crossed the bridge before it was officially opened for traffic. The date of the opening was May 27th, 1937.
There was an official song created to commemorate the event ‘There’s a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate,’ and Strauss himself dedicated the poem ‘The Might Task is Done’ to the bridge right after its completion.
Scale and Cost of the Project
Let’s look at the price and size of the project for a moment. When the bridge was opened, it was the longest suspension structure in the world (the longest bridge in the world today is in Japan, 1,237 miles). The structure of the bridge is quite impressive – 1.2 million steel rivets are keeping it together, and there are on average 60,000 of them in a single tower. There are 80 miles worth of wire in the bridge and over 27.000 steel wires in the large section of the structure.
But the costs of the bridge were not only material; there were several tragic deaths during the construction, which marked the whole project. Strauss had a brilliant idea and innovative one, to hang a safety net under the bridge so that if a worker fell, they could be saved from the cold water of the Pacific. But even with the net in place 11 men died during the project as one fell past the net and other tens were killed when a chunk of scaffolding fell, destroying the safety barrier.
But even with the sacrifice of 11 lives and long, extremely dangerous construction work, the bridge stands today as a monumental achievement. The rigorous safety standards that Strauss put in place saved the lives of other 19 workers who survived falling into the safety net.
The Men Behind The Monument
As we already mentioned the main figure behind the Golden Gate Bridge project was Joseph Strauss, but although he was the head designer and engineer the final look of the bridge had little to do with him. Before this massive project, Strauss had built several smaller inland bridges, but there was no other construction of this scale and magnitude in his career before. He was a real leader and managed to attract engineering and design talent from all over the country to take part in this project.
There were three great minds under him Irving Morrow, Charles Ellis, and the man who designed the Manhattan Bridge – Leon Moisseiff. The overall shape of the bridge, it’s lighting, and art deco elements, as well as its great Orange color, were all suggested by the relatively unknown at the time architect Irving Morrow. The US Navy wanted to paint the bridge in contrasting black and yellow stripes to ensure it was visible for passing ships.
A Monument of Popular Culture
The Golden Gate Bridge has become a symbol featured in countless films, songs, and even play. It rivals the Statue of Liberty as one of the most important symbols in America. Today thousands of people and cars pass the bridge daily, and it still shines as brightly as it did back in the opening day. Many people believe that it is repainted every few years, but this is not entirely accurate. However, as any other construction, the bridge requires serious maintenance. The paint needs constant retouching to prevent erosion of the steel components caused by the salty air.
Great minds and talent, massive investment, a complicated project, endless hours of dangerous work and the sacrifice of 11 lives marked the path that led to the construction of one of the most famous symbols of America – the mighty Golden Gate Bridge.