This iconic bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County was an incredible feat of engineering and is now a landmark attracting tourists in its own right. The story of its construction is just as impressive as the structure itself, and a huge testament to the massive-scale building work of the era.
Image source: Goldengate.org
Before the bridge existed, the only way of crossing the Golden Gate Strait to get to Marin County and vice versa was via a public ferry. With little access to the communities around the bay, the city of San Francisco had seen its growth slump, which led to the proposal of a bridge being built. However, many deemed such a feat impossible due to consistent strong winds and heavy fog.
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However, the idea was clearly too good to pass up, and construction of the bridge began in January 1933. The design came from engineer Joseph Strauss, who offered a cheaper alternative to the very expensive earlier proposals. However, Strauss had never completed a project on this scale before, so local authorities demanded that he only proceed with input from several experts.
Image source: goldengate.org
The first task was to lay the foundations under water, and divers were hired to oversee them being sunk into the ocean floor. This was a very risky task; they had to ascend to great depths to perform intricate tasks while facing violent currents. Still, there was no shortage of volunteers due to the unemployment problems during that time.
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Although today the thought of the iconic structure being any colour but red is almost unthinkable, it actually wasn’t intended to stay this way. The steel that was used in construction was coated with a red/orange primer that was designed to protect it from the corrosion. However, consulting architect Irving Morrow was impressed with the effect the striking colour had on the bridge’s overall appearance; not only was it easier to see in the thick fog but it also made a stunning contrast next to the area’s surroundings and the blue sky.
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During the bridge’s construction 11 workers sadly died. This was actually very low for large-scale building works of the period, where it was generally said that 1 fatality should be expected for every $1 million spent — the Golden Gate Bridge cost a total of $35 million. This impressive safety record was largely down to Strauss’ demand for a safety net to be placed under the bridge at a cost of $130,000. The net saved many lives – most notably 19 men who became known as the “Halfway to Hell Club.” 10 of the 11 workers who died during construction were killed when a work platform weighing around 5 tons collapsed and fell through the net in February 1937.
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Construction was finished by May 1937 and opened to a huge one-week celebration. 200,000 foot passengers passed over it on the day before it opened to vehicles, and designer Strauss penned a commemorative poem titled “The Mighty Task is Done.” Today, the bridge remains an iconic symbol of California, as well as a monument to a huge feat in engineering. It is now the most photographed bridge in the world.