In 1937, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House. That simple action officially announced an event much of the world was already anticipating: the opening of The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. After four years of construction and a cost of millions of dollars and many lives, one of the world’s greatest bridges had been born.
With a span of 4,200 feet (1280m), a record that stood for 27 years, and two 746 ft (227m) towers the six lane bridge crosses the Golden Gate strait in San Francisco Bay. The span record lasted until the completion of the Verrazano Narrows bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island in 1964 and is still disputed owing to differences in the way measurements are made.
Stretching across some of the most treacherous waters in the world, it connects the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County near Sausalito. The Art Deco-themed suspension bridge masterfully conquers that challenge with aesthetic grace and brilliant engineering.
The brainchild of Joseph Strauss, he outlived his creation by only a year. But before he died the genius overcame obstacles nearly everyone had declared insurmountable.
At the time of its construction it was the largest suspension bridge in the world erected over a body of cold, swift-current water 400 ft (122m) deep. The bridge towers remained the world’s tallest until recently.
Strauss spent over 10 years attempting to get approval for the project. The financing alone took three years to arrange and wasn’t entirely paid off until 34 years later. The $35 million bonds paid their holders $39 million additional in interest over the period entirely covered by bridge tolls.
But money was the least of Strauss’ problems in erecting the structure. Always concerned with safety, Strauss reduced the death toll on construction by stringing a large net under the entire span. Though 11 men were killed during construction, 19 were saved by its use. 10 of the deaths occurred as a result of net failure after a scaffolding fell.
Painted in a brilliant orange, the roadway was so popular that even prior to the official opening hundreds of thousands of visitors crowded the span for a look. It remains so today. Millions of vehicles have crossed since 1937.
The only road exiting north of San Francisco, traffic on the bridge is constant day and night. Its walkways are still often traversed by pedestrians and bicyclists.
Built to withstand some of the strongest winds buffeting any bridge in the world, the span survives the challenge by aid of its enormous cables and massive anchorages. The cables are 36.5 inches (92.7cm) thick, the anchors sunk in solid rock filled with 30,000 cubic yards of concrete to hold the towers.
Strauss’ confidence in his design was vindicated long after his passing. In 1951 the bridge had to be closed to traffic due to gale force winds of seventy miles per hour. Though the deck swayed twenty-four feet (7.3m) from side-to-side and five feet (1.5m) up and down, it survived with only minor damage.
The Golden Gate Bridge forms part of U.S. Highway 101, California Highway 1, but can be reached via Route 30 from Fisherman’s Wharf to Route 28.