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1937

Golden Gate Bridge opens

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a stunning technological and artistic achievement, opens to the public after five years of construction. On opening day–“Pedestrian Day”–some 200,000 bridge walkers marveled at the 4,200-foot-long suspension bridge, which spans the Golden Gate Strait at the entrance to San Francisco Bay and connects San Francisco and Marin County. On May 28, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to vehicular traffic.

The concept of bridging the nearly mile-wide Golden Gate Strait was proposed as early as 1872, but it was not until the early 1920s that public opinion in San Francisco began to favor such an undertaking. In 1921, Cincinnati-born bridge engineer Joseph Strauss submitted a preliminary proposal: a combination suspension-cantilever that could be built for $27 million. Although unsightly compared with the final result, his design was affordable, and Strauss became the recognized leader of the effort to bridge the Golden Gate Strait.

During the next few years, Strauss’ design evolved rapidly, thanks to the contributions of consulting engineer Leon S. Moisseiff, architect Irving F. Morrow, and others. Moisseiff’s concept of a simple suspension bridge was accepted by Strauss, and Morrow, along with his wife, Gertrude, developed the Golden Gate Bridge’s elegant Art Deco design. Morrow would later help choose the bridge’s trademark color: “international orange,” a brilliant vermilion color that resists rust and fading and suits the natural beauty of San Francisco and its picturesque sunsets. In 1929, Strauss was selected as chief engineer.

To finance the bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was formed in 1928, consisting of San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte, and parts of Mendocino and Napa counties. These counties agreed to collectively take out a large bond, which would then be paid back through bridge tolls. In November 1930, residents of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District voted 3-1 to put their homes, farms, and businesses up as collateral to support a $35 million bond to build Strauss’ Golden Gate Bridge.

Construction began on January 5, 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression. Strauss and his workers overcame many difficulties: strong tides, frequent storms and fogs, and the problem of blasting rock 65 feet below the water to plant earthquake-proof foundations. Eleven men died during construction. On May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to great acclaim, a symbol of progress in the Bay Area during a time of economic crisis. At 4,200 feet, it was the longest bridge in the world until the completion of New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964. Today, the Golden Gate Bridge remains one of the world’s most recognizable architectural structures.

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