Trying to pin down a start date for the Golden Gate Bridge is tricky business. Is it December of 1932, when construction began on the San Francisco and Marin County anchorages? Or when the first tower was erected in March of 1933?
Maybe it’s a more symbolic date, like November 4, 1930, when the treasury bonds to finance the bridge were issued. Or way back in 1872, when railway mogul Charles Crocker first proposed the idea of a bridge across the Golden Gate Strait and was laughed out of his meeting of Gilded Age industrial fat cats.
The idea of building a bridge across the Golden Gate Strait resurfaced in the early 20th century, and was met with more challenges and opposition, though less out-and-out derision than poor Charles Crocker. The bulk of the pushback came from three equally entertaining sources:
First the general public, who thought it was going to be a hideous eyesore, a blot on the landscape. Second, the powerful ferry boat lobby, who for obvious financial reasons liked people being forced to take ferries across the strait instead of hovering above the water like gods. Third, friend of the blog, President Herbert Hoover, who was like “A bridge? Made of gold? In this economy? We don’t have money for that. Maybe if you named it after me.”
It wasn’t until 1923 that the concept gained traction when engineer Joseph Strauss formed a new partnership with Leon Moisseiff, an expert in suspension bridge design. They collaborated on a new design for a pure suspension bridge, which helped alleviate some of the “hideous eyesore” concerns. $35 million in treasury bonds were issued to cover the cost, so financial considerations were taken care of. As for the powerful ferry lobby… Yeah, their concerns were valid. They’re much less powerful now.
Since we have to pick a date to celebrate Goldie, how about August 2nd, 1935, when the first wire cables were strung up across the Golden Gate Strait. After all, what’s the Golden Gate Bridge without its cables? In honour of that step taken 88 years ago, we put together some hot stats on this landmark.
Golden Gate Bridge, by the Numbers:
4 years: The amount of time it took to build the bridge, from construction beginning in 1933 to completion in 1937. This is an astonishingly short amount of time for the era, and for the magnitude of the undertaking. Natural barriers to construction also presented themselves, as they had to work around strong tides, powerful currents, and frequent dense fog. Despite these challenges, the engineers and construction workers persevered and created an iconic structure.
19: The number of workers saved by the Golden Gate Bridge’s greatest safety innovation, a giant net strung under the bridge to catch workers who fell. These 19 men became known as the “Halfway to Hell Club”. Joining this exclusive club required falling at least 100 feet and surviving. Today, the names of these 19 men are inscribed on a plaque at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The net was so effective that it ended up saving many lives during construction, instilling confidence in the workers and ensuring their safety.
Safety was taken very seriously on the project, and included a holistic approach to worker wellness. They were given a specially formulated diet to help combat dizziness, including a sauerkraut juice cure if they came to work hungover (project managers, take note). Mining helmets were modified especially for the job, and glare-free goggles were provided. There was even special hand and face cream for the workers to protect against the buffeting winds at their vertiginous height.
0: Number of taxpayer dollars used on the bridge. After the Hoover administration panned the idea of funding it, all $35 million was raised in bonds. So as well as being an engineering marvel, it became a financial success as well, and the bonds were paid off ahead of schedule in 1971.
5000-10000: Litres of paint used to touch up the Golden Gate Bridge each year. It’s an urban legend that the Golden Gate Bridge is painted continuously, end-to-end, and as soon as it’s finished they start again at the beginning. There is near continuous maintenance being done, because of the corrosive effects of the fog and salt water (like dropping a coin in a pickle jar, basically).
But while we’re on the subject of the colour, the bridge’s distinctive “International Orange” color was initially intended only as a protective primer. There were competing ideas about how it ought to look, with the Army Air Corps wanting candy cane red and white (where are we, the North Pole?) and the Navy voting for black and yellow stripes (where are we, Pittsburg?). However, the consulting architect, Irving Morrow, liked the primer color so much that it was retained as the final coating.
4,200: Feet across, the span of the Golden Gate Bridge, which at the time of completion made it the longest in the world, until 1964. At 746 feet above the water it was also the world’s tallest. The two main suspension cables alone required 80,000 miles of wire.
Building such a massive structure required innovative construction methods. The bridge was constructed using a suspended structure design, with huge towers supporting cables that held the roadway. Interestingly, the towers were built using an innovative cantilever construction technique. This involved constructing the two towers outward from the base simultaneously until they met in the middle. This method allowed for greater stability and saved time during construction.
3: Number of babies that have been born on the bridge. All boys incidentally. The statistical probability of that is only 12.5% so we’re tempted to make a sweeping statement about guys really liking bridges, which anecdotal evidence also supports.
Holding a special place in engineering and construction history, as well as in the cultural consciousness, the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Francisco, attracting millions of visitors from around the world every year. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was a monumental feat that required ingenuity, perseverance, and daring from its builders, and makes us proud to celebrate it in this installment of “Today in Construction History”.