📸 The Golden Gate Bridge today.
This is the Golden Gate Bridge, an icon of San Francisco, California that spans the Golden Gate straight. It is over 4,200 feet of brilliant orange steel with 27,572 galvanized wires bound together for support. The marvel of engineering was the product of two men’s visions: structural engineer Joseph Strauss, famous for revolutionizing moveable bascule bridges, and City Engineer Michael O'Shaughnessy who rebuilt San Francisco in the wake of the 1906 earthquake.
📸 Sacramento st. in the wake of the 1906 earthquake.
From the comfort of the present day the Golden Gate Bridge seems like an inevitability — as much a part of San Francisco’s geography as the bay it crosses. It was not always this way. In fact, building the Golden Gate Bridge was a herculean task, contending with the unprecedented difficulties of constructing over a strait that combined strong currents, high fog, and even seismic activity. That's not even to mention the dense forest of political red tape that had to be navigated through in order to complete the landmark.
In the early hours of April 18, 1906, a deadly 7.9 earthquake shook San Francisco. Combined with the fires it triggered, 2,300 acres (80% of the city) was destroyed with thousands dead and many more homeless. Public corruption and graft, already major problems, skyrocketed in this environment as political bosses and businessmen sought to take advantage of the devastation. It was O'Shaughnessy, appointed in 1912, who revitalized the city, most celebrated for the Hetch Hetchy reservoir that brought a new source of fresh water to the city. O'Shaughnessy, the West’s own Robert Moses, rebuilt San Francisco from its near destruction, but he still had greater plans for the California city.
📸 O'Shaughnessy, 1920.
O'Shaughnessy likely first met Strauss in 1915, at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Strauss had fashioned some of his elevating bridge technology into an aeroscope amusement ride, a simple entertainment but one that showcased his engineering spirit.
Schooled at the University of Cincinnati, Strauss studied engineering but never obtained a proper degree or license in the field. Nevertheless, his projects speak for themselves. He revolutionized the bascule bridge design with a new pinion gear system that cut down on counterweight needed for the bridges to function. How and when exactly the two men met is unknown, but we do know they began collaborating soon after the exposition on the Peter R. Maloney Bridge.
📸 Strauss' commemorative statue today.
For all his innovation, Strauss’s style was bluntly functional, reflected in the squat and ugly Maloney bridge. When O'Shaughnessy posed the challenge of a bridge spanning the mile-long Golden Gate strait, Strauss knew an innovative design would be needed for the project. The challenges were many.
The Golden Gate strait is a truly unique geological structure, carved by the eroding force of seven different rivers that deposit directly into the Pacific’s current. At its center, this strait is 335 deep and above the water one has to contend with billowing winds off the ocean. This was an architectural conundrum, requiring a bridge strong enough to be mounted in the bay properly, while flexible enough to deal with the wind, while situated near a major fault line.
📸 The bridge under construction.
Strauss’s idea was the marriage of two different bridge styles: suspension (supported by cables) and cantilever (supported by triangles of metal bars), but he eventually acquiesced to a simpler cable design. Beyond the bridge design itself, it was Strauss who was the main voice for the project, traveling up and down Northern California, lobbying for the project. It would take over a decade to garner enough support for the project, with concerns coming from the federal government, the Navy, and the owners of ferries between San Francisco and Marin County.
Though he was no gifted orator, (he was described by a Marin County mayor as “the world’s worst speaker") with the boldness of his ideas, along with America’s nascent car culture and the vast economic growth to be had, Strauss won over the support he needed. He became the public face of the bridge project, driving a wedge between him and O'Shaughnessy who had first begun the project.
After the unending headache of winning local, federal, and military approval, design of the bridge continued apace. Strauss, for all his innovation, was greatly aided by the men working under him, chief among them Charles Alton Ellis. It was Ellis who did much of the suspension designs, a field Strauss was not adept in, but Strauss was as much a cheerleader for himself as the actual project and took credit for the final design. The two men had a difficult falling out during the early stages of construction, which led to Ellis' expulsion from the project. The State of California recognized his contribution in 2007.
Construction began on January 5, 1933, 18 years after Strauss first met O'Shaughnessy. It continued until the bridge's opening in 1937, when it became the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time. While he exaggerated his role in its design, Strauss was masterful at overseeing the Golden Gate’s construction, delivering it just five months beyond the promised date and $1.3M under budget, for a total cost of 35 million, over half a billion today.
Less than a year after the Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public, Strauss died of a massive stroke while convalescing in Arizona. O'Shaughnessy stayed on as city engineer until 1932, until he began work on San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission to directly oversee Hetch Hetchy. He died of a heart attack two years later, both he and Strauss having labored for years to build the Golden Gate, but only briefly living to see the completed project. Today, the bridge connects San Francisco to the rest of California, one of the most famous architectural feats in the world that thousands of people cross every day.
Golden Gate Bridge Suspender Rope
The Golden Gate bridge consists of two types of metal ropes, the main support cables which move from tower to tower and the vertical suspenders that bind the bridge itself to main cables.
These cable wires are made up of a bundle of super strong, galvanized steel wire strands. In total, it's estimated there are over 80,000 miles of wire on the bridge, maintaining an incredible integrity against the winds of the San Francisco Bay.
While the main support cables can never be removed, the vertical suspenders are sometimes replaced for repair. This specimen is one of the Golden Gate Bridge's original 250 vertical suspender ropes which was replaced in the mid-70s. The process took four years and was a major feat of engineering. The state of California sold some of this material to help pay for the repairs.
For over 30 years, this piece was a crucial part of the architecture of the bridge and San Francisco itself. Check out the specimen below!
The Mighty Task is Done by Joseph Strauss
At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.
On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all--the sea.
To north, the Redwood Empire's gates;
'To south, a happy playground waits,
in Rapturous appeal;
Here nature, free since time began,
Yields to the restless moods of man,
Accepts his bonds of steel.
Launched midst a thousand hopes and fears,
Damned by a thousand hostile sneers,
Yet ne'er its course was stayed,
But ask of those who met the foe
Who stood alone when faith was low,
Ask them the price they paid.
Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire,
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single, stalwart part,
What gave it force and power.
An Honored cause and nobly fought
And that which they so bravely wrought,
Now glorifies their deed,
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.
High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life's restless stream,
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form,
To fear not war, nor time, nor storm,
For Fate had meant it so.
Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2010.
Strauss, Joseph Baermann, and Clifford E. Paine. The Golden Gate bridge: Report of the chief engineer to the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, California, September, 1937. Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, 1938. Starr, Kevin.
Van der Zee, John. The Gate : the True Story of the Design and Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge / John van Der Zee. Simon and Schuster, 1986.