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Golden Gate Bridge is Born

Golden Gate Bridge is Born

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On January 5, 1933, construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, as workers began excavating 3.25 million cubic feet of dirt for the structure’s huge anchorages.

Following the Gold Rush boom that began in 1849, speculators realized the land north of San Francisco Bay would increase in value in direct proportion to its accessibility to the city. Soon, a plan was hatched to build a bridge that would span the Golden Gate, a narrow, 400-foot deep strait that serves as the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, connecting the San Francisco Peninsula with the southern end of Marin County.

Although the idea went back as far as 1869, the proposal took root in 1916. A former engineering student, James Wilkins, working as a journalist with the San Francisco Bulletin, called for a suspension bridge with a center span of 3,000 feet, nearly twice the length of any in existence. Wilkins’ idea was estimated to cost an astounding $100 million. So, San Francisco’s city engineer, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy (he’s also credited with coming up with the name Golden Gate Bridge), began asking bridge engineers whether they could do it for less.

Engineer and poet Joseph Strauss, a 5-foot tall Cincinnati-born Chicagoan, said he could.

Eventually, O’Shaughnessy and Strauss concluded they could build a pure suspension bridge within a practical range of $25-30 million with a main span at least 4,000 feet. The construction plan still faced opposition, including litigation, from many sources. By the time most of the obstacles were cleared, the Great Depression of 1929 had begun, limiting financing options, so officials convinced voters to support $35 million in bonded indebtedness, citing the jobs that would be created for the project. However, the bonds couldn’t be sold until 1932, when San-Francisco based Bank of America agreed to buy the entire project in order to help the local economy.

The Golden Gate Bridge officially opened on May 27, 1937, the longest bridge span in the world at the time. The first public crossing had taken place the day before, when 200,000 people walked, ran and even roller skated over the new bridge.

With its tall towers and famous trademarked "international orange" paint job, the bridge quickly became a famous American landmark, and a symbol of San Francisco.

READ MORE: 8 Surprising Facts About the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

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Golden Gate Bridge, suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate in California to link San Francisco with Marin county to the north. Upon its completion in 1937, it was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world. The Golden Gate Bridge came to be recognized as a symbol of the power and progress of the United States, and it set a precedent for suspension-bridge design around the world. Although other bridges have since surpassed it in size, it remains incomparable in the magnificence of its setting and is said to be the most photographed bridge in the world. It carries both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) across the strait and features a pedestrian walkway.

The bridge’s orange vermilion color, suggested by consulting architect Irving Morrow, has a dual function, both fitting in with the surrounding natural scenery and being clearly visible to ships in fog. At night the bridge is floodlit and shines with a golden luminescence that reflects off the waters of the bay and creates a magical effect.

Its construction, under the supervision of chief engineer Joseph B. Strauss, began in January 1933 and involved many challenges. The strait has rapidly running tides, frequent storms, and fogs that made construction difficult. During one such fog on August 14, 1933, a cargo vessel collided with the access trestle, causing serious damage. Workers also had to contend with the problem of blasting rock under deep water to plant earthquake-proof foundations. A movable safety net, innovated by Strauss, saved a total of 19 men from falling to their deaths during construction. However, the safety net failed on February 17, 1937, when it gave way under the weight of a scaffolding collapse of the 13 men who were on the scaffolding, one jumped clear, two survived the fall into the water, and 10 were killed. One other worker fell to his death during the construction, for a total of 11 worker deaths over four years.

The bridge opened to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937, under budget and ahead of schedule. The main span, 1,280 metres (4,200 feet) long, is suspended from two cables hung from towers 227 metres (746 feet) high at midpoint the roadway is 81 metres (265 feet) above mean high water. Until the completion of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City in 1964, it had the longest main span in the world.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Barbara A. Schreiber.

Facts and History of Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge across the place the where San Francisco Bay opens into the Pacific Ocean, so-called Golden Gate (hence the name). It connects San Francisco with Marin County and it is 2737 meters long and 227 meters high. Some 45 million of vehicles cross Golden Gate Bridge in a year. Golden Gate Bridge is one of the landmarks of San Francisco and, until 1964, it was a bridge with longest suspension bridge main span in the world.

Before Golden Gate Bridge was built, the shortest route between San Francisco and the Marin County was by ship. First ferry service was established in 1820. In time automobile ferries, which were once used only by costumers of the railroad, became very profitable and San Francisco became largest city in United States largely supplied by ferries. Because the ferries didn’t provide constant connection with the nearby regions, the city’s growth began to drop.

Then appeared the idea of the bridge that would span the Golden Gate and give San Francisco much-needed link. In 1916, James Wilkins wrote an article in San Francisco Bulletin that estimated cost of building a bridge across Golden Gate is $100 million and asked a question whether it could be done for less. One Joseph Strauss responded with the idea that cantilever bridge could be made for $17 million. Local authorities agreed to expand on the idea but only if design is changed to suspension bridge and if Strauss cooperates with other designers and engineers because of his low experience with jobs of such type and magnitude. Designer Leon Moisseiff and Senior engineer Charles Alton Ellis were joined to the project on the general engineering while Irving Morrow designed look of towers, lightning and Art Deco details of the bridge. Construction of the bridge started in 1933 and ended in 1937. It is not known how many workers worked on the bridge but it was built by some 10 prime contractors, it cost some $35 million, it was finished before the schedule and $1.3 million under budget. Deck has a weight of 1500.000 tonnes and cables that hold it are 90cm thick and made from 130.000 kilometers of wire.

When it was opened on May 27, 1937, opening celebrations lasted a week. The day before bridge was opened for vehicles some 200.000 pedestrian crossed it by foot. For a 50th anniversary, bridge was close again and pedestrians were allowed on it. But this time some 1.000.000 people gathered and caused the middle of the bridge to flatten out. Because of that pedestrian walk was not allowed for a 75th anniversary.

Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and is a true feat of engineering of its time. It was built on a fault line that presents constant danger of earthquakes. Strong winds from Pacific can sway the bridge but it is built so it can swing sideways 8 meters and withstand blows of wind that are up to 160 km/h.

Who built the Golden Gate Bridge?

Although Joseph Strauss is remembered as the main engineer and designer behind the Golden Gate Bridge, he ended up having very little to do with its iconic look. Strauss, although accomplished at building smaller inland bridges, had never completed a work of this scale and magnitude. Like any good leader, he pooled engineering and design talent from all over the country. The three major heads under him were Leon Moisseiff (who designed the Manhattan Bridge), Irving Morrow and Charles Ellis. Morrow, a relatively unknown architect at the time, added some of the most important designs to the bridge, as he envisioned the overall shape of the bridge’s towers, its lighting scheme, its Art Deco elements and the famous international orange color.

Fact: The US Navy originally planned to paint the bridge with black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility for passing ships.

EssentialDegs's Blogging

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75 Years Ago, A Deadly Day On The Golden Gate

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, connecting San Francisco to Marin County in the north.

Seventy-five years ago today, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public. People walked across the bridge for the first time, marveling at what was then the largest suspension bridge in the world.

Before the project began, many people thought building the bridge was impossible. And when the construction started, most thought that dozens would die in the process. The rule of thumb at the time was that for every million dollars spent on a project, one person would die — and the Golden Gate Bridge was going to cost $37 million.

At first, those fears seemed to be proved unfounded. On Jan. 5, 1933, construction began — and it continued without a single fatality for four years.

Celebrating The Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco's iconic bridge opened to the public 75 years ago on May 27, 1937.

Radio Pictures

The Golden Gate Bridge's Accidental Color

Around the Nation

Walk This Way: Crossing The Golden Gate Bridge

Building The Bridge

It was the middle of the Great Depression, and young men were desperate to work and careful once they got it. The Golden Gate Bridge was a golden opportunity for young men all over the West, including Fred Brusati, a Montanan who'd left high school after a year to go looking for a job.

"One day, I heard they were going to start the Golden Gate Bridge," he recalled in an oral history project in 1985. "And I says, 'Well, I'll try it. I never been up 746 feet but I'll try it anyhow.' "

And once there, they were determined not to lose their spots. Slim Lambert, a cowboy from Washington state, worked the bridge as a roustabout, carrying equipment, pouring concrete and making about $10 a day.

"You hardly ever slowed down to a trot, you know. There was men waiting right there for a job if anybody slowed down a little," he said. "Lots of men were fired right on the spot, if the boss thought they were lingering a little bit."

The work was dangerous, though, despite the men's eagerness the bridge was built in the days before federal safety standards. Despite that, construction made it through its final winter without a single fatality. By mid-February, there were just three months left until the opening.

A Dangerous Task

On the morning of Feb. 17, 1937, a group of workers made their way onto a catwalk underneath the bridge. Their job that day was to remove a temporary scaffold that had been built underneath the platform.

Each time they stripped off a section of scaffolding, they had to move the catwalk another few feet to reach the next bit. Martin Adams had come all the way from Arkansas to work on the bridge, and he recalled that day with clarity nearly 50 years later.

"They went on there, and they stripped that one and started to move it," he said. "And when they started to move it, that's when it went down 9:20 in the morning, it went down."

One of the men removing the scaffolding was Fred Brusati.

"See, I was working on the catwalk, right there around midspan," he remembered. "And somebody says the catwalk is falling."

He rushed to the source of the yelling, a man clinging to a piece of steel. Brusati and a few others threw him a rope and hauled the man up.

"The man had a pipe in his mouth. He didn't drop the pipe or nothing," Brusati said. "He just started [to] walk toward San Francisco, and I never did see him back there again."

But the real tragedy laid below: 12 men — including Slim Lambert — had fallen the 220 feet into the water.

I knew that to have a prayer, to survive, I had to hit the water feet first.

"People ask me, 'What went through your mind?'" he said. "The only thing that went through my mind was survival. I knew that to have a prayer, to survive, I had to hit the water feet first."

But when Lambert hit the water, his legs tangled in a piece of netting that had fallen into the strait along with the catwalk.

"And that's the only time I panicked during the whole thing," he said. "I was caught in the net, and the net was headed for the bottom."

Lambert, though, was a strong swimmer. He kicked and kicked and eventually freed himself from the net. He'd plunged so deep that when he finally emerged, he was bleeding from his ears. On the surface, bridge debris was everywhere.

"I got a couple of planks together and — for myself first — and then I saw Fred thrashing about, so I got him."

Lambert pulled 24-year-old Fred Dummatzen up onto the floating planks and did the only thing he could do next: wait.

Finally, an unlikely rescuer arrived. A crab fisherman coming in from the Pacific sailed near the two floating men.

"And he was almost by, and he took another look around, and his eye hit me," Lambert said. "And what a relief. I figured, by gosh, we're gonna make it."

Dummatzen didn't make it. Today, there's a plaque on the western side of the bridge dedicated to him and the nine others who died that February day.

The men quoted in this story all survived to recount their memories to an oral history project in 1985, and all three have since died. Of the hundreds of men who helped to build the Golden Gate Bridge, the last of them died in April.

Golden Gate Bridge is Born

This Day in History: January 5, 1933

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco via Reg Saddler
Construction begins today in the year 1933 on what was to become one of the world's most beautiful bridges, a stunning technological and artistic achievement: the Golden Gate Bridge, a symbol of San Francisco. This engineering marvel was by no means a spur of the moment venture or overnight undertaking. The concept for the bridge arose as early as 1872 and was not completed until 1937.

Golden Gate with Fort Point in foreground, c. 1891
Prior to the conception of the Golden Gate Bridge, the only way to cross San Francisco Bay was by ferry. By the early 20th century, the bay was clogged with ferries eluding to a greater necessity for a bridge as proposed by engineer and bridge-builder Joseph Strauss in the 1920s.

Construction on the bridge did not begin without opposition. The military, loggers, the railroads each had their own reasons. Nor did the building of the bridge go without dangers in its midst - the area where the bridge was to be built often encountered winds up to 60 mph with strong ocean currents that swept through a rugged canyon below the surface. And, if that was not enough, the era was in the middle of the Great Depression where money was definitely not plentiful, but quite the opposite. scarce! With construction already under way, voters overwhelmingly approved $35 million in bonds to continue building the Golden Gate Bridge, which was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

History Of Golden Gate Bridge

Do you know why the Golden Gate Bridge has its iconic name? The answer might surprise you. Rather than being named for the area's association with the Gold Rush, it's actually named for the water that runs beneath it—The Golden Gate Strait. It's just one of the many historical facts about the Golden Gate Bridge that not too many people realize.

If you've been wondering about the interesting details that lay behind the Golden Gate Bridge's past, either because you've been thinking about moving to the area and have been looking for apartments in San Francisco or have a thirst for knowledge about the city, keep reading. We're going to delve into what you may not have realized about the history of the Golden Gate Bridge.

What's Up With That Name?

The aforementioned article gives us a deeper glimpse into the tale. During the mid-1800s, soldier and explorer John Fremont gave the passage its name, borrowing from the Greek term, "Chrysoplae." In English, it translates to "Golden Gate," which was fitting, as Fremont saw the similarities between San Francisco and another port town from antiquity:

"[when] John C. Fremont saw the watery trench that breached the range of coastal hills on the western edge of otherwise landlocked San Francisco Bay, it reminded him of another beautiful landlocked harbor: the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in Constantinople, now Istanbul."
Thus, the name for this gateway to the Pacific Ocean was born. Little did Fremont realize, however, that years later, the name would also be lent to the now-famous bridge that joins the sides of this mighty expanse.

What's The Story Behind Its Construction?

The idea for a bridge linking the two sides of the Golden Gate Strait goes back as far as the latter-1800s. Though ferry service had long been the established route from San Francisco to what is now known as Marin County, realizing a more practical connection between the would help expand growth. The idea had many detractors, including South Pacific Railroad company and Ansel Adams, but in spite of these protests (and the numerous lawsuits that were filed against the construction) the plan that sprung the Golden Gate Bridge into motion prevailed.

That plan, by the way, had its roots in a proposal that was published in the San Francisco Bulletin in 1916, by one-time engineering student turned journalist James Wilkins. The plan's price tag was exorbitant, $100 million (which would equate to a couple of billion dollars today) so San Francisco's city engineer, Michael M. O'Shaughnessy, put out a call to engineers to see if they could do it for less.

An engineer from Chicago, Joseph Strauss, jumped at the call. He was already skilled at constructing drawbridges, and after some collaboration with O'Shaughnessy, came to the conclusion that they could build a bridge across the Golden Gate Strait for only $30 million, a much more reasonable sum for the time.

They couldn't get to building straight away, however, as they would need funding and backing from the community. After creating the necessary sketches and designs in 1921, Strauss got to work trying to drum up support. These efforts paid off, and, according to History.com:

"By August 1925, the people of Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte and parts of Napa and Mendocino counties had agreed to join the district and offer their homes and businesses as collateral for securing funds."
Commencing construction was tied up for several years due to litigation and opposition. When the legal hurdles were surmounted and the last piece of the funding puzzle, an investment in the project by Bank Of America, was completed, Strauss and O'Shaughnessy were free to enact their grand vision. Construction finally began on January 5, 1933 when workers started excavating the sites for the bridge's towering anchorages.

They worked hard through many obstacles. Powerful storms disrupted the original timetable. New techniques had to be mastered to help speed construction. In the end, the team was able to complete the task in May of 1937, coming in both ahead of schedule and under budget.

Congratulations were in order. A one-week celebration was held to commemorate the amazing work that had been done. Strauss even wrote a poem (that is now part of the bridge) entitled "A Mighty Task Is Done," in honor of their accomplishments.

What's Happened Since It Was Built?

In the near-Century since the Golden Gate Bride's construction, it has stood tall as a monument to mankind's ingenuity. It has lasted through even the most devastating earthquakes that have occurred in the area, and was even named one of the "Seven Civil Engineer Wonders Of The United States" by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Until 1981, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world (at 4,200 feet). Until 1993, it was also the tallest (thanks to the 746-foot towers).

It sees more than its fair share of use. In addition to motor vehicle traffic, the bridge has pathways on both sides for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge is even famous enough that it has its own visitor center and gift shop. Known as the Bridge Pavilion, those interested can take a peek on the San Francisco side of the bridge, near its southeast parking lot.

What's The Bridge's Legacy?

Though mighty indeed, there is a possibility for trouble in the Golden Gate Bridge's future. According to the National Park Service, "if global warming progresses at predicted rates, sea level could rise three feet or more by the end of this century. Historic buildings, archaeological sites, and roads will be threatened." The effects may not be limited to the environment, they might start to change outcomes that could influence the bridge's integrity as well. It's not a certainty, though, and there's also the possibility the bridge will be standing proud and tall well into San Francisco's future.

About Those Apartments In San Francisco.

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How the Golden Gate Bridge Changed Safety Standards

If there’s one construction job that set the modern standards for work site safety precautions, it is the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. When construction on this bridge began in 1933, it was the first suspension bridge supported by a tower in the ocean and surrounded by harsh weather and water conditions.

Before this project bridge construction workers, or “bridgemen,” had been considered reckless daredevils who worked without any safety precautions. They had to be fearless to climb the high steel and deal with the rugged weather and risky footing. The Golden Gate Bridge was built during the Great Depression – when 1 in 4 Americans was unemployed – and despite the risks, workers applied in droves.

Mary Currie, from the Golden Gate Bridge District, said getting a job on the bridge was like winning the lottery. “The men waiting to get a job, were hoping someone would hurt himself so they could replace him,” she said.

New and Better Safety Measures Enacted

Chief engineer and advocate for the bridge, Joseph Strauss, insisted on the use of the most extensive safety precautions in the history of bridge building. He demanded these include the latest safety innovations. The industry norm at that time was that one man would die during construction for every million dollars spent. This bridge cost $35 million – and with those numbers Strauss was committed to radically reduce that potential loss of life.

His safety innovations and equipment included a safety net underneath the entire bridge during roadway construction. Nineteen men fell into the net accidentally, yet none of them died. This group was famously called the ‘Halfway to Hell Club.’

“On the Golden Gate Bridge, we had the idea we could cheat death by providing every known safety device for workers,” Strauss wrote in 1937 for The Saturday Evening Post.

The Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t the first big job to require fall prevention and other safety equipment, but it was the first big job to fire employees who didn’t use the safety gear.

Strauss’ safety regulations were considered to be the most rigorous in the history of bridge-building. Here’s a sampling of the required safety equipment:

  • Workers wore safety lines and Bullard hard hats. Manufacturer Edward Bullard created an industrial hard hat to wear on the job. He also designed a sand-blast respirator helmet that the workers wore. It prevented inhalation of lead-tainted fumes.
  • Glare-free goggles helped visibility and prevented ‘snow blindness’ caused by the sun’s reflection off the water.
    Special hand and face cream protected skin against the constant winds.
  • Carefully formulated diets helped to fight dizziness during tower and roadway construction.
  • Sauerkraut juice “cures” were supplied for a hangover.
  • An on-site field hospital was provided.
  • A safety net was strung underneath the entire length of the bridge.

Even with these precautions, 11 men died during construction – including 10 who lost their lives when a section of scaffold fell through the safety net. However, there were 28 worker fatalities during the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Strauss’ safety regulations can be reasonably credited with saving many lives and setting a new worksite safety standard. He proved to the world that safety gear saves lives.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened for traffic on May 27, 1937. That day, nearly 200,000 people crossed what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. Since then over 2 billion cars have traveled over this bridge.

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