Golden Gate Bridge History – From Laughing Stock To Beloved Symbol

"To pass through the portals of the Golden Gate is to cross the threshold of adventure."
– Allan Dunn

It's hard to imagine that the Golden Gate Bridge was once the laughing stock of San Francisco. Much like the Eiffel Tower, it's had its fair share of critics calling it costly, ugly, disruptive and an impossible engineering feat. On opening day, May 27, 1937, the San Francisco Chronicle dismissed the bridge as "a thirty-five million dollar steel harp."

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A Man with a Vision

Joseph B. Strauss

From City Hall to the Sierra Club, the critics failed to weaken the resolve of Joseph B. Strauss, the Chief Engineer of the bridge project. His dream was to engineer a suspension bridge that would span the Golden Gate Strait — where San Francisco Bay enters the Pacific Ocean. Other engineers thought it impossible to build a bridge over the strait due to the powerful tidal waters and the incredible depth of the water (318 ft) at its deepest point. But Strauss proved them wrong.

Sadly, Strauss did not live long enough to see his bridge become one of the nations's best-loved landmarks. The engineer died barely a year after completing the his life-long dream.

Four Years and Four Months to Build

Four Years and Four Months

A feasibility study started in 1917 to determine if a bridge could be built. It would take another 16 years before the first shovelful of dirt was turned.

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in four years and four months and came in under budget by one million dollars. Only 12 workers died during construction, most of them in February 1937 when a scaffold collapsed, plunging 13 men into the bay. The last surviving Golden Gate Bridge worker died in April of 2012.

The Golden Gate Bridge weathered early criticism to become celebrated as one of the most beautiful and elegant structures in the world. It has managed to survive powerful winds, an earthquake, and even its 50th birthday party!

The Birthday Party That Nearly Destroyed It

The Birthday Party That Nearly Destroyed It

In 1987, more than three-quarters a million people showed up to celebrate the Golden Gate's golden anniversary. The bridge was closed to car traffic, but the party almost became a disaster when the weight of the crowd became so great that the middle of the bridge to sagged by 7 feet!

The organizers underestimated the power of the party and the draw of the bridge — they had expected a mere 50,000 party-goers to the birthday party.

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A Wise Investment

Wise Investment

The Golden Gate bridge is run by a board of nineteen members from San Francisco and six other counties — San Francisco, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte. All of these counties originally invested in the bond issue to pay for the Golden Gate Bridge's construction. The investment by the neighboring counties was a wise one — they all share in the bridge toll earnings.

To give you an example of the payout, $27 million a year goes to Marin and Sonoma counties alone. The Golden Gate Bridge is the only direct route to these outlying northern California regions.

Today more than 40 million vehicles a year cross the Golden Gate Bridge to regions to the north. 17 million cars cross the bridge southbound. The northbound cars are not counted in the annual income since no toll is collected. It's a one-way toll only — t costs to get into San Francisco! A fitting coda to the Golden Gate Bridge history.

The Bay Bridge – The Older Brother

The Bay Bridge

Although we tend to think of the the Golden Gate as the quintessential San Francisco symbol, the Bay Bridge deserves equal recognition. The often overlooked older brother, the Bay Bridge was actually finished before the Golden Gate by a full year. It also had its own challenges due to the depth of the water and the fact that the bay floor is made of mud. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the Bay Bridge the seventh wonder of the world.

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