On January 5, 1933, the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge officially started, marking a new era in American engineering and architecture. The only connectivity between San Francisco and Marin County since the early 19th century was a ferry service. While the suggestion of building a bridge from Marin County to connect America’s largest city was made in 1916 by James Wilkins in the San Francisco Bulletin, the idea itself was considered a fantasy by many. Even if a bridge were to be constructed the costs were estimated to be $100 million – an impractical sum. San Francisco’s city engineer, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy started to look for an engineer who could complete the structure at an acceptable cost. Joseph Strauss, a Cincinnati-born engineer, took up the challenge and agreed to complete the construction within $27 million. The bridge took about five years to complete and had a 4,200-foot-long suspension span. From 1937 to 1964 the Golden Gate Bridge held the distinction of being the longest suspension bridge in the world. In 1964, it was surpassed by New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by about 60 feet.
In 1929, Joseph Strauss was chosen to be the chief engineer. His initial design, though far in aesthetics from the current structure was a cost-effective one. Leon S. Moisseiff, the consulting engineer, Irving F. Morrow the architect, and many others enthusiastically pitched in with their inputs and the idea of a simple suspension bridge with Art Deco design soon evolved. Architect Morrow was responsible for choosing the brilliant “international orange” color while O’Shaughnessy choose the name Golden Gate Strait – the strait of the San Francisco Bay across which the bridge is built.
One of the greatest challenges that delayed the construction of the bridge was finance. To solve this challenge, in 1928 the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was formed. The district was formed by joining San Francisco, Marin, and a number of surrounding districts. By November 1930, residents of the district put up all their homes and properties as collateral and raised funds to support a $35 million bond. It was in 1932, that the Bank of America bought the project and financed the construction.
A number of groups were opposed to the project. These included the ferry operators who stood to lose business with the opening of the bridge. A number of engineers and officials were skeptical about the possibility of such a construction and about the costs involved. The construction started at about the start of the Great Depression, straining the economy of the state. Environmentalists also opposed the construction. Apart from these, the natural challenges faced by the builders of the bridge were strong ocean currents and poor visibility due to fogs. Heavy winds strained the construction as well. A total of 11 workers were killed during the building of the bridge.
The challenges notwithstanding, the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, after about 5 years of construction. On May 27 that year, the bridge opened up to the traffic. Over 200,000 people walked the length of the bridge and vehicular traffic was allowed to pass the following day. On the first day, about 32,3000 automobiles crossed the bridge. Most offices and schools in San Francisco shut down in a major celebration. US President Franklin D Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House declaring the Golden Gate Bridge open. The initial toll charged for the bridge was 50 cents each way. Joseph Strauss died about a year after the opening of the bridge. A statue by the side of the bridge honors the great engineer.
Over 75 years since its construction, the Golden Gate Bridge has remained an iconic symbol of American engineering and the beauty of San Francisco City. The sturdy design, construction, and engineering have ensured that the bridge remains undamaged even after 7 decades. In February 1985, the number of cars crossing the Golden Gate Bridge reached over 1 billion. Currently, the bridge records a daily traffic of over 110,000. In 2010, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the Golden Gate Bridge one of the Wonders of the Modern World. The bridge has also been popularly called the most beautiful and most photographed bridge in the world, due to its spectacular golden-orange color and the beautiful natural backdrop. The bridge has been featured in a number of films such as “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” “Hulk’ ‘Milk,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and “The Core.”
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