On this day in 1933, construction starts on what will become one of America’s most famous landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge. When completed in 1937, the Golden Gate has a 4,200-foot-long suspension span, making it the world’s longest suspension bridge. Since opening to the public in May 1937, almost 2 billion vehicles have crossed the bridge, in both the north- and southbound directions.
The bridge was named not for its distinctive orange color (which provides extra visibility to passing ships in San Francisco’s famous fog), but for the Golden Gate Strait, where the San Francisco Bay opens into the Pacific Ocean. The bridge spans the strait and connects the northern part of the city of San Francisco to Marin County, California.
Prior to the bridge’s construction, the only way to travel between these two areas was by ferry boat.
The bridge’s chief engineer, Joseph B. Strauss (1870-1938), an Ohio native who built numerous bridges across the U.S., was involved with the Golden Gate project by the early 1920s. From the beginning, Strauss and his collaborators faced numerous challenges, including opposition from skeptical city officials (who were concerned about costs), environmentalists and ferry operators (who were worried the bridge would impact their business). Some members of the engineering community said it was technically impossible to build the bridge, and it was not easy to raise funding for the project at the beginning of the Great Depression (a $35 million bond issue to finance construction of the bridge was passed in California in 1930). Once construction began, workers had to contend with the strong ocean currents and heavy winds and fog in Golden Gate Strait. Eleven workers died during the building of the bridge, 10 of them on one day, February 17, 1937, when their scaffolding fell through a safety net.
Despite all of these issues, the Golden Gate Bridge, with its art deco design, was completed in four years and on May 27, 1937, some 200,000 people showed up to celebrate its opening. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House, signaling to the world that the bridge was open to vehicular traffic. The initial toll for the bridge was 50 cents each way.
The Golden Gate would remain the world’s longest suspension bridge until it was surpassed, by 60 feet, by New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which opened in 1964. In February 1985, the 1 billionth car crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, more than 41 million vehicles travel across the bridge each year.