The Wonderful Golden Gate Bridge


The Golden Gate Bridge is a wonderful feat of engineering, admired all over the world for its technical brilliance and also the subtlety of its architectural design.  This report outlines some of the main and interesting facts around the construction of this great bridge span and the people involved with its design.

The Golden Gate Bridge is located in San Francisco, USA, on the Golden Gate Strait where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean.  The Strait itself is approximately 3 miles long by 1 mile wide and is said to have been named by John C. Fremont, a Captain of Topographical Engineers in the US Army, around 1846.  He chose to call the strait Golden Gate as it reminded him of a harbour in Istanbul known as Chrysoeros that translates to ‘Golden Horn.’

Key Facts

Total Length of Bridge including approaches

 2,737m (1.7 miles)

Length of suspension span including main span and side span

 1,996m (1.2 miles)

Length of main span (Distance between towers)

1,280 m

Length of side span

343 m

Overall Width of Bridge

27 m

Width of roadway between curbs

19 m

Width of pavement

3 m

Clearance of bridge above mean high water

67 m

Total weight of each anchorage

60,000 tons

Original combined weight of bridge, anchorage’s and approaches

894,500 tons

Combined weight of bridge, anchorage’s and approaches (1986)

887, 000 tons

How the Bridge Began

The idea of building a bridge that would cross the strait was first proposed in 1872 by Charles Croker, a railroad entrepreneur, but no further action was taken until 1916 when a local newspaper editor, James Wilkins started an editorial campaign. A national enquiry began to find out the cost and feasibility of such an enormous project and the majority of engineers believed building a bridge was not possible and would cost over $100 million.

One man, Joseph Baermann Strauss, who had already designed 400 such bridges believed that not only could the bridge be built, but would only cost between $25 and $30 million, paid for by a tolling system. Strauss submitted preliminary drawings on June 28, 1921, which estimated costs of $27 million and after many difficulties such as problems with funding, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was formed on December 4, 1928. The District was formed to design, construct and finance the building of the Golden Gate Bridge and on August 15, 1929, Joseph B. Strauss was selected as Chief Engineer with Leon S. Moisseiff, O.H. Ammann and Charles Derleth, JR selected as Consulting Engineers.

In November 1932, contracts worth $23,843,905 were awarded.

The Paint job

Rather than having the bridge coloured in carbon black and steel grey, Morrow and his wife thought that it should be painted with a colour called Orange Vermilion otherwise known as International Orange.  This colour was selected so that the bridge would blend well with that of the natural surroundings of the area.  The US Navy was not happy about this and wished for the bridge to be painted black with yellow strips so it was good for visibility but their suggestion was rejected.

Originally the bridge was painted with a lead primer and lead based topcoat and this meant only touch up jobs was needed for the next twenty-seven years.  In 1968 the maintenance staff realised that advanced corrosion was occurring and so the original paint was removed and replaced with inorganic zinc sulphate primer and a vinyl topcoat.  In 1990 the topcoat was again changed this time to acrylic emulsion to meet air quality standards.

The maintenance of the paintwork is continual as it gives protection from the high salt content in the air, which can rust or corrode steel components.

The Art Deco Theme

The original plans drawn up by Joseph Strauss called for a hybrid cantilever and suspension structure across the Golden Gate Strait. This plan was seen to be uneasy on the eye, and was very different to what the bridge looks like today.  After Strauss showed his first design, Consulting Engineer Leon S Moisseiff believed that a long span suspension bridge could cross the water. A suspension structure of this length had never been tried before and was seen as a mistake waiting to happen but the two men firmly believed that with their knowledge they could build this great bridge.

Even after Strauss and Moisseiffbegan to change the new design, it wasn't until Consulting Architects Irving F. Morrow and his wife Gertrude C. Morrow joined the project that the art deco styling, which was prominent in this era, began to take shape. The team of husband and wife added the subtle differences to the design such as simplifying pedestrian railings so they were placed far enough apart to allow motorists an unobstructed view of the fabulous scenery. The light posts were changed to a lean, angled form and wide, vertical ribbing was added on the horizontal tower bracing to catch the suns light on the structure. The rectangular towers were also designed so that as they went higher they become narrower thus making them higher than they really are. Such architectural enhancements as these define the Golden Gate Bridge's art deco look. It is this subtlety which is known and admired all over the world.

Safety Precautions

As Chief Engineer, Joseph Strauss insisted on ground breaking safety precautions.  He recruited Edward W. Bullard, a local manufacturer of safety equipment, to design protective headwear that was to be worn by anyone operating on the job.  This was a prototype for the modern day hard hat and was worn for the first time ever along with eye goggles, which reduced glare.  Hand and face cream which protected the user from wind was also used and a large safety net suspended underneath the bridge was there to catch men if indeed they fell to what would have otherwise been certain death.  Throughout the construction of the bridge the net saved the lives of nineteen men who were to become known as the ‘Half way to hell club.’

Until February 17, 1937 only one fatality had occurred and this set a record in an area where at least one man per million dollars spent had died. However, on February 17, 1937 ten men plunged to their death when a scaffold fell through the safety net.

Key Dates

1872  .  Earliest discussion of building a bridge to span the Golden Gate Strait.

May 25, 1923.  The state legislature passes the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act of California into law.

December 4, 1928.  Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District is incorporated as the entity to design, construct, and finance the Golden Gate Bridge.

August 27, 1930.  Joseph Strauss submits his final plans for the bridge to the District Board of Directors.

November 4, 1930.  Voters within the 6 counties of the District approve the $35 million bond issue to finance construction of the bridge.

January 5, 1933.  Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins.

May 27, 1937.  Golden Gate Bridge opens to pedestrian traffic

May 28, 1937.  Golden Gate Bridge opens to vehicular traffic at twelve noon.  The bridge opened ahead of schedule and under budget.

July 1, 1971.  Remaining original bonds issued for construction of the bridge are retired.  $35 million and almost $39 million in interest were financed entirely from bridge tolls.

February 22, 1985.  The one-billionth car crosses the Golden Gate Bridge.

August 15, 1985.  Construction completed on the replacement of the original roadway with modern orthotropic steel plate deck.

May 27, 1987.  Golden Gate Bridge celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

September 2, 1998.  United States Postal Service unveils Golden Gate Bridge commemorative stamp.

March 1999.  The Golden Gate Bridge awarded number two position in Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century by CONEXPO-CON/AGG SECOND ONLY TO Chunnel Tunnel (Channel Tunnel). 

Comments 11 comments

Dantone profile image

Dantone 6 years ago from UK

What a wonderful bridge. I have a holiday booked in the US next year and can't wait to see it :)

Ashley Carew 6 years ago Author

You will love it mate, I went there a few years back and it was magnificent. Don't forget to go to alcatraz either! Thanks for stopping by...

jlspartz 6 years ago

Wow, only $23 million. Nowadays, that would only cover the cost of painting the thing.

N Holding 6 years ago

An icon of america - beautiful!

Ashley Carew 6 years ago Author

@jlspartz - you are right $23m now is an absolute drop in the ocean nowadays!

Ashley Carew 6 years ago Author

@ N Holding - I know exactly what you mean. It sure is Iconic.

s2aebelt profile image

s2aebelt 6 years ago

My husband is traveling to Sacremento now, He has some free time, maybe I'll see how far this is from him. Nice article!

Chad Damon profile image

Chad Damon 6 years ago from USA

Just across that bridge is a beautiful spot to sit and watch marine life swim by. Lots of sea lions, seals, and other animals.

Englandborn1 profile image

Englandborn1 6 years ago

I love san fran and i love pictures of this bridge! Enjoyed this hub very much.

ConradM profile image

ConradM 6 years ago from San Francisco, CA

I've been blessed to live within minutes of this bridge for the past several years and I always enjoy rounding the bend and watching it fill my entire field of view - magnificent.

TnFlash profile image

TnFlash 6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Well written Hub! I live here in the US and this hub made me want to travel to California and see the bridge.

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