Symbol of Sydney

The Harbour Bridge

Irrespective of whether you view ‘The Bridge’ from a plane descending over Sydney or from the bow of a cruise ship passing through ‘the heads’, the enormity of this icon will have a lasting impression on you. For those who reside in Sydney, to either travel across ‘The Bridge’ or merely admire it over the beautiful harbour, the buzz remains.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is regarded as the Greatest Bridge of it’s type in the world.

1900 - Bridge designers submit their tenders, all of which are unsatisfactory but this design wins the second prize of £500 for a suspension bridge tendered by the Sydney firm J. Stewart
1900 - Bridge designers submit their tenders, all of which are unsatisfactory but this design wins the second prize of £500 for a suspension bridge tendered by the Sydney firm J. Stewart | Source

The Vision

In 1815 Francis Greenway (an engineer) had a vision of a bridge built to both impress and link the city of Sydney to the North Shore. Greenway wrote, that a bridge would give an idea of strength and magnificence that would reflect credit and glory on the Colony and the Mother country.

His vision fell on deaf ears when he presented it but by 1900 it was evident that a bridge crossing was necessary and so tenders went out for a suitable design. All designs submitted were inappropriate and so the momentum was lost.

After the war in 1923 enthusiasm for a bridge was rekindled.

Credit for persistence to make this project a reality went to J Bradfield who was known as ‘the father of the bridge’. His enthusiasm, engineering qualification and supervision skills made him the perfect candidate to see the project through.

He proposed a cantilever bridge, however, when tenders were submitted it was an arch design by the English firm Dorman Long & co who were awarded the contract.

The tender price was 4, 217,721 pounds.

Greenways vision had came to fruition over 100years later.


The Seven Designs tendered by Dorman Long  & Co., Ltd. Can you spot the winning design?
The Seven Designs tendered by Dorman Long & Co., Ltd. Can you spot the winning design?

The Design

The design featured an arch with a span of 503 meters across. This huge span ranks third biggest in the world therefore aptly the name ‘Coat hanger’ was adopted as a fitting description.

The bridge can boast being the worlds largest (not longest) steel arch designed bridge and also largest for it’s load capacity.

The impressive pylons stand 89 meters high on each corner of the bridge and are made up of concrete. Granite was used to face the concrete to enhance the appearance. Many an artist has painted pictures just featuring the pylons and tourists are seen at his point marveling over the design.

Longitudinal section and front elevation of Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons.
Longitudinal section and front elevation of Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons. | Source

Considering that the designs were drawn in 1923 there was much foresight into it’s future use as it has 8 traffic lanes, 2 railroad lines, 1 bus lane and a pedestrian pathway.

More than 16,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

These lanes are approximately 51 meters above the water level.

First cars and trains across Sydney Harbour Bridge, March 1932
First cars and trains across Sydney Harbour Bridge, March 1932 | Source
Traffic across the bridge in May 1947.
Traffic across the bridge in May 1947.
Present Traffic
Present Traffic

Early excavations of northern end of York Street for southern approach
Early excavations of northern end of York Street for southern approach | Source

Construction

Construction of the Bridge began on the 28th July, 1923 commencing firstly with the approaches.

Two half arches built from each side of the shore each held back by 128cables anchored underground through U shaped tunnels. After the arches met, steel decking was then hung from the arches taking nine months to position. In 1930 the two arches met.


Sydney Harbour Bridge during construction, 1930, with two aeroplanes, Charles Ulm's "Southern Sun" & a Gypsy Moth
Sydney Harbour Bridge during construction, 1930, with two aeroplanes, Charles Ulm's "Southern Sun" & a Gypsy Moth | Source
Riggers riveting the red-hot rivets on the lower outside south chord, Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1930-1931
Riggers riveting the red-hot rivets on the lower outside south chord, Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1930-1931 | Source

The steel plates are held together by approximately 6 million rivets, I repeat, 6 million!

52,800 tons of silicon based steel trusses were used in the construction.

The last rivet was driven through on the 21st January, 1932.

Before opening the bridge the load bearing capacity was tested by packing it with railway carriages, trams and buses all in different configurations. Some reports of the test state that 96 steam locomotives were used but either way the test was extensive.

In recent times the 200 steps built to the top of the arch are used for all who want to make the climb to enjoy one of the best if not the best views of Sydney.


Twilight Bridge Climb
Twilight Bridge Climb | Source

The Opening - 19th March, 1932

The opening was a momentous occasion with huge crowds merging on Sydney’s harbour shores. It is estimated that up to one million people witnessed the official opening but not without incident.

The NSW Premier the Hon Jack Lang officially declared the Bridge open. However, Captain Francis De Groot of the para – military group, the New Guard had other intentions for the proceedings. He slashed the ceremonial ribbon with his sword firstly resulting in his arrest. Thereupon, the ribbon was tied together and the proceedings went ahead as scheduled.

An engineering masterpiece was OPEN.

Now the city of Sydney was linked by a majestic bridge to the North Shore, obviating the need to cross by ferry.

Jack Lang, watched by Sir Philip Game, cuts official ribbon, 19th March 1932
Jack Lang, watched by Sir Philip Game, cuts official ribbon, 19th March 1932 | Source
Water Pageant from Admiralty House. 19/03/1932
Water Pageant from Admiralty House. 19/03/1932 | Source

The Celebrations

Not even the effects of the economic depression could dampen such an occasion.

Decorative floats, marching groups, and bands crossed the Bridge.

One can visualize how festive the day was with a gun-salute, a procession of passenger ships under the Bridge, a ‘venetian’ carnival, a fly-past, fireworks and more.

What a great moment it was for the crowds of people to be able to cross that day. 50 years later in 1982 the bridge was closed to traffic and opened to the public to walk over once again as a second celebration of it's original opening.

My grandmother was 36 years old in 1932 and I recall her once telling me of the ferry crossings. Unfortunately I did not ask her to relate her recall of life in Sydney and the Central Coast (north of Sydney) in those days. The bridge was a mile-stone in this ever developing city but transport to and from this point was far from luxurious.

Every New Years eve no expense is spared to show the world that Sydney has a famous Bridge, by the fireworks displays off it’s arches.

Thank you for reading my brief attempt to highlight this true ICON!

NYE 2009 from Mark's Darlinghurst Apartment
NYE 2009 from Mark's Darlinghurst Apartment | Source

More by this Author


Comments 11 comments

Sarena 5 years ago

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is so beautiful, thanks for sharing the history behind it


nicregi profile image

nicregi 5 years ago from Malaysia

Amazingly wrote! Thank for sharing and lovely photos too :) Keep up the good work.


SanneL profile image

SanneL 5 years ago from Sweden

So magnificent, It truly is a beautiful bridge!

You have done a marvelous job on this hub. It was so interesting to read the whole history how this bridge was built and looking at all the great pictures. Gosh, I wish I had such a marvelous view from my window on New Years eve!

By the way, it has to be the third drawing from the top that became the final design, or am I wrong?

Voted up and pushed all the right buttons.

Thank you!:)


inthenickoftime77 profile image

inthenickoftime77 5 years ago from New Zealand, aka: Aotearoa, aka: The Land Of The Long White Cloud

You have done a great job on this hub, with the pictures, designs etc. It is an amazing piece of engineering without a doubt and very beautiful.


LadyLyell profile image

LadyLyell 5 years ago from George, South Africa Author

Thank you to all who have read my hubpage with interest.

The pictures tell the story as you have noted.

Support is always appreciated.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

I enjoyed learning more about this beautiful bridge from your account. It is truly an icon symbol as well as the opera house in Sydney. Every New Year's Eve we see the fireworks on television being broadcast from there. Voted up and interesting!


LadyLyell profile image

LadyLyell 5 years ago from George, South Africa Author

Thank you Peggy for taking such an interest in my article on the Bridge. The photo of the fireworks was in fact taken by my son from the balcony of his apartment in Sydney. No doubt you enjoy watching the event on TV each year but how lucky is he to be in full view!

Your comments are appreciated.


LadyLyell profile image

LadyLyell 5 years ago from George, South Africa Author

Sannel, you got it right, it was the third drawing from the top to become the final design.


Val Bergstrom 5 years ago

Thank you Ladylyell, you have done an excellent job of sharing the history of this truly awesome bridge with us. Keep up the good work.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Wow! Your son certainly has a spectacular view on a year round basis! Sharing this hub with my followers and will tweet as well.


LadyLyell profile image

LadyLyell 4 years ago from George, South Africa Author

I hope your followers enjoy the hub and thank you for the support.

Yes, quite a view as you say.

Have a nice day!

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