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28 May 2011

On this day in history: Golden Gate Bridge opened, 1937

In 1916, the editor of The San Francisco Call & Post, James Wilkins, started a campaign to revive the idea of a bridge to span the Golden Gate - the strait that connects San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean - in order to cut congestion on the ferry. The editorials caught the eye of the City Engineer, Michael M. O'Shaughnessy, who requested feasibility studies from across the United States. Most engineers said that the costs would be prohibitive, some saying that it could cost as much as one-hundred million dollars. Yet, one engineer from Ohio, Joseph Baermann Strauss, claimed that the project could be completed for less than thirty million dollars.

Strauss submitted preliminary sketches to O'Shaughnessy who then had the difficult task of persuading the local government that the bridge would finance itself through toll charges but without much luck. In 1922, the bridge's proponents came up with the idea of creating a district a quasi-governmental authority to administer transportation between six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. The idea received official sanction the next year when the California state legislature passed the "Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act."

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District incorporated in 1928 just in time for the stock market crash of 1929 to hamper their attempts to raise funds to start construction. The District lobbied for a thirty-five million dollar bond issue, which received approval in 1930. Finally, on 5th January 1933, work began on the bridge.

At that time, no suspension bridge in the world had a longer span, so Strauss had his work cut out as head of the project he had fought for. He developed a system of moveable safety nets under the point of construction, which saved the lives of nineteen workers; however, near the end of completion, ten men did lose their lives when the net failed under the wait of the scaffolding that fell with them. In April 1937, the construction was completed, $1.3 million within budget.

On 28th May 1937, President Roosevelt pressed a button in Washington D.C. to signal that the bridge was now open for vehicle traffic - the day before, 200,000 people had crossed the bridge by foot or on roller-skates to mark the beginning of the week-long festivities to celebrate the opening of the bridge.

To find out more about the financing and construction of the bridge see 'Golden Gate Bridge Changes Engineers' Reasoning' by Kathleen Elliott at the California Historian site.

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Don E. Chute said...

Thank You! This is near and dear to my heart as I grew up in Contra Costa County with a view from my house of San Pablo Bay.

I have spent much time on the GG Bridge. Lots and lots of time viewing her stuck in rush hour traffic!

Thanks Again.
Aloha From Sunny South Florida!

Molly said...

I thank you for all the history I have learned from you, as I was a terrible student and didn't think these historical events would ever interest me. Well here I am trying to learn as much as I can before I leave this world. Thanks again

Stepterix said...

Thanks for the kind words.