On this day in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco with Marin County, California, officially opens amid citywide celebration.
Named for the narrow strait that marks the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed from January 1933 to May 1937. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, at 4,200 feet. From the beginning, the bridge’s location posed challenges for its construction, not least because of its proximity to the mighty San Andreas Fault, which passes from north to south through the San Francisco Bay area. In addition, the tumultuous waters of the strait posed grave dangers for the underwater construction work necessary to build the bridge.
Still, the engineer Joseph Strauss waged a tireless 16-year campaign to convince skeptical city officials and other opponents of the controversial project. On the bridge’s opening day, he triumphantly exclaimed: “The bridge which could not and should not be built, which the War Department would not permit, which the rocky foundation of the pier base would not support, which would have no traffic to justify it, which would ruin the beauty of the Golden Gate, which could not be completed within my costs estimate of $27,165,000, stands before you in all its majestic splendor, in complete refutation of every attack made upon it.”
By 6 a.m. on May 27, 18,000 people were lined up on both the San Francisco and Marin sides; in all, some 200,000 showed up that day. At the appointed hour, a foghorn blew and the toll gates opened, releasing the earliest arrivals, who rushed to be the first to cross. Many schools, offices and stores were closed, and the day was designated “Pedestrian Day.” The next day, the bridge opened to vehicular traffic. Across the country in the White House, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed the bridge open to the world, and by the end of the day, more than 32,000 vehicles had paid tolls and crossed. According to the official Web site of the Golden Gate Bridge, nearly 2 billion vehicles have crossed the bridge (in both north- and southbound directions) in the 70-plus years of its operation.