One of the most photographed and recognizable landmarks in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge has held my fascination for as long as I can remember. Nothing in my imagination, however, prepared me for the reality of this magnificent bridge when I finally travelled to San Francisco several years ago and experienced it firsthand. The drive across the bridge did not disappoint. Its size and magnitude were breathtaking; its beauty and engineering awe-inspiring.
This majestic structure is about to marks its 75th anniversary. Connecting San Francisco to Marin County, the 4,200-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge opened to pedestrians on May 27, 1937 and 200,000 bridge walkers flocked to this architectural and technological wonder. On the following day, the suspension bridge was opened to vehicular traffic and San Franciscans realized a long-held dream of having an efficient way to get from one side of the Golden Gate Strait – the origin of the bridge’s name – to the other.
A Financing First
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, ferries were the only way for San Franciscans to travel across the Golden Gate Strait. Although the idea of bridging the more than mile-wide gap had been proposed as early as 1872, it wasn’t until the early 1920s when the ferry system became congested, that public opinion in San Francisco began to favor such an undertaking.
In 1921, bridge engineer Joseph Strauss submitted a preliminary proposal for a combination suspension-cantilever bridge that could be built for $27 million. Although Strauss’ design would change over the years and the price tag would ultimately climb to $35 million, he became the recognized leader of the effort to build a bridge across the Golden Gate Strait.
The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was formed in 1928 to finance the bridge. Members included San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte and parts of Mendocino and Napa counties. The counties agreed to collectively take out a large bond, which would be paid back through bridge tolls. In 1930, residents of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District voted 3 to 1 to put up their homes, farms and businesses as collateral to support a $35 million bond to build Strauss’ Golden Gate Bridge, making it the first project of its magnitude to be completely financed by private citizens.
Construction on the bridge began Jan. 5, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. Workers were glad to have jobs but were also mindful of its dangers. Strong tides, frequent storms and fog, and the problem of having to blast rock 65 feet below the water to plant earthquake-proof foundations were constant challenges.
To ensure the safety of the bridge workers, Strauss insisted on rigorous safety precautions. He had protective headgear designed and it was the first time that hard hats and goggles were worn on a construction project. Still, the most obvious precaution was a safety net suspended under the bridge from end-to-end. The lives of 19 men were saved by the net.
Here are some other interesting facts about the bridge considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World:
The bridge’s dimensions: The bridge is 1.7 miles long and 90 feet wide. The two main towers rise 746 feet above the water.
There are approximately 600,000 rivets in each tower.
The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964, when New York’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened with 60 additional feet. Today, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan is the longest at 6,532 feet.
As of April 2011, 1,929,896,448 vehicles have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge since its opening.
The bridge is painted “International Orange.” Its color was chosen because it blends well with its natural surroundings and because it is visible in the fog.
Since 1937, the bridge has only been closed three times due to weather conditions. In each case, strong winds caused the closings, though no damage was done to the bridge. Nor was the bridge damaged by the 1989 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Eleven men died during construction of the bridge. Until February 17, 1937 only one man had lost his life. On that day, 10 men died when a section of scaffolding fell through the safety net.
Membership in the Halfway-to-Hell-Club is made up of the 19 men who were saved by the safety net strung end-to-end under the bridge.
The bridge has an influence on directing fog as it pushes up and pours down the structure. In addition, to ensure the safety of the vessels traveling below it, the bridge has had fog horns attached to it since 1937.
It is Illegal to drop or throw objects from the bridge. Under California law, anyone doing so is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Celebrating 75 Years San Francisco Style
San Franciscans are preparing to roll out the red carpet for their beloved bridge. The 75th anniversary celebration will take place May 27, with activities spanning the waterfront from Fort Point to Pier 39. Festivities include an historic watercraft parade, art installations, music and dance stages, and spectacular fireworks. Complete event details can be found at the anniversary website.