A Bit of Golden Gate Bridge History

The Golden Gate Bridge is such a celebrated icon of San Francisco, that it's hard to believe that there was a time when it was not a part of this city's landscape!

That said, before its creation, people in and near San Francisco were certainly able to see the value in building a bridge that would connect the city to the Marin Headlands.

In 1930, a $35 million bond (between $1.2-2 billion today, according to different sources) was passed to initiate the project. The fact that this was a year into the Great Depression is testament to how much people wanted it!

Plans might have begun earlier, for discussions about building a bridge across the Golden Gate had been happening for many years, but there had been reasonable doubt as to whether it was even achievable, due to the strong currents and changing tides of the channel, as well as the commonly foggy, windy weather.

Causing further delays were groups that opposed the building of the bridge, such as the military and Pacific Railroad Company. The former was concerned about how ships would pass through the gate, the latter worried about what the bridge would do to their thriving ferry-service business.

Eventually, however, plans for the Golden Gate bridge got the support it needed, and construction was under way in 1933.

(Make sure to check out the cool videos below!)

See also: Visitor Info / Images / Facts



The People Behind the Project

Joseph Strauss had been very involved in seeing the Golden Gate Bridge project materialize, and he acted as chief engineer for the job.

He had submitted the first design for the bridge, but we are lucky that it was only accepted under the condition that he be open to making changes to it. The elegant structure that graces the Golden Gate today, is a huge leap from the hideously unattractive, combination suspension/cantilever design that he had initially proposed.

Strauss has received the most credit for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the final structure was very much a collaborative effort that included Irving Morrow, who came up with several of its popular Art Deco design elements, as well as selected the famous orange color, Leon Moisseiff, who came up with the main structural design, and especially Chalres Alton Ellis, who acted as principal engineer and knew more about suspension bridge design than Strauss.



That Orange Color!

I've read several reasons for why the famous "International Orange" (or "Orange Vermillion") was selected. Likely, it was a combination of all of them, as they each seem valid in their own right.

On a practical level, the bright orange color would improve its visibility to ships in the frequently foggy weather. There are some sources that claim that the US Navy hoped to have it painted in black and yellow stripes for even better visibility! Thank goodness they didn't get their way!

Aesthetically, people felt that orange would complement the warm colors of the surrounding landscape nicely (I'd have to agree!). If you look at the soil of the Marin Headlands, it has a very definite reddishness to it!

Lastly, another source suggested that locals pushed to have it painted orange, so that it would be something other than the typical silver commonly used on bridges.



Bridge Safety

11 men died during construction of the bridge, but for the time, it was considerably better than had been expected. Projects of that magnitude typically estimated losing one man per million dollars spent, and it was thanks to Strauss' innovative safety netting below the bridge that the numbers were less.

19 men were saved by the netting, and they later declared themselves as members of the "Halfway to Hell Club". The accident that took 10 of the 11 lives lost during construction, was the failure of some scaffolding that fell through the safety net.

The Bridge Completion

4.5 years after the project began, the bridge was completed in 1937. Opening day was held on May 27th, and festivities lasted for a week.

There was a Pedestrian Day where 200,000 people came to cross the bridge on foot, an official Automobile Day, as well as parades and fireworks. Schools and businesses closed so that everyone could participate!

Today the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Aside from serving as an important thoroughfare to Bay Area residents, it stands as a symbol of beauty, as well as a crowning human achievement!


Here are two really cool videos that shows footage of the bridge. This first one has scenes from the bridge today, and then shows some amazing black and white footage of workers constructing the bridge.

This second video shows scenes from the Opening Ceremonies in 1937. It's a little over 4 minutes long, so if you don't feel like watching the whole thing, check out the beginning, and then perhaps the last 45 seconds or so. The end is my favorite part, and shows clips from Pedestrian Day.



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