This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

An Engineering Marvel

lawrencepiggins_GoldenGateBridgeInFogMay 28, 1937:  Golden Gate Bridge Opened

May 28, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., pushes a button signaling the start of vehicle traffic over the span.  As part of both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, the structure links the city of San Francisco, on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, to Marin County. It is one of the most internationally recognized symbols of San Francisco, California, and the United States and has been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World.


Many experts said that a bridge couldn’t be built across the 6,700 ft (2,042 m) strait. It had strong, swirling tides and currents, with water 372 ft (113 m) deep at the center of the channel, and frequent strong winds. Experts said that ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation.

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The idea of a bridge spanning the Golden Gate was not new and a San Francisco City Engineer estimated the cost at $100 million, impractical for the time, and fielded the question to bridge engineers of whether it could be built for less.  One who responded, Joseph Strauss, was an ambitious but dreamy engineer and poet who had, for his graduate thesis, designed a 55-mile (89 km) long railroad bridge across the Bering Strait.  At the time, Strauss had completed some 400 drawbridges—most of which were inland—and nothing on the scale of the new project.  Strauss’s initial drawings were for a massive cantilever on each side of the strait, connected by a central suspension segment, which Strauss promised could be built for $17 million.

goldengate_moisseiffThe final graceful suspension design was conceived and championed by New York’s Manhattan Bridge designer Leon Moisseiff.


goldengate_morrow01Irving Morrow, a relatively unknown residential architect, designed the overall shape of the bridge towers, the lighting scheme, and Art Deco elements such as the tower decorations, streetlights, railing, and walkways.


goldengate_ellis01Senior engineer Charles Alton Ellis, collaborating remotely with Moisseiff, was the principal engineer of the project.

The famous International Orange color was originally used as a sealant for the bridge. The US Navy had wanted it to be painted with black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility by passing ships.

With an eye toward self-promotion and posterity, Strauss downplayed the contributions of his collaborators who, despite receiving little recognition or compensation, are largely responsible for the final form of the bridge.  He succeeded in having himself credited as the person most responsible for the design and vision of the bridge.  Only much later were the contributions of the others on the design team properly appreciated.  In May 2007, the Golden Gate Bridge District issued a formal report on 70 years of stewardship of the famous bridge and decided to give Ellis major credit for the design of the bridge.

Vintage Construction Photos

Watchf Associated Press Domestic News  California United States APHS56467 GOLDEN GATE CONSTRUCTION 1934 base

07The Golden Gate bridge, during its construction in May of 1936

11Nearing completion in 193710Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge

On opening day, Mayor Angelo Rossi and other officials rode the ferry to Marin, then crossed the bridge in a motorcade. The next day, President Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington, D.C. signaling the official start of vehicle traffic over the Bridge at noon.

15Motorcycles crossing the Bridge on opening day

Until 1964 the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world, at 4,200 feet (1,280.2m).


Opening Day – Golden Gate Bridge

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