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Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Golden Gate Bridge Started, January 5, 1933

Today in 1933, construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Today, 70 years after its completion, the bridge remains an enduring symbol of San Francisco, California and the United States. It is one of the most recognizable structures on Earth.

The Golden Gate is the name given to the mouth of San Francisco Bay. On one side of the opening is the city of San Francisco; on the other, Marin County. For several generations, the only way to cross the Golden Gate was by ferry. Although discussion of a bridge had been ongoing since the first decade of the 20th century, it was engineer Joseph Strauss who got the ball rolling on the project in 1921. Strauss had engineered more than 400 bridges of various types, but the Golden Gate Bridge would require bridge-building skills of an entirely different caliber.

Strauss spent most of the 1920's seeking support for the bridge. During that time, the design for the structure changed. Architect Irving Morrow was responsible for the Art Deco design of the towers and for the color of the bridge, which is known as International Orange. Engineers Leon Moisseiff and Charles Alton Ellis helped work out the plan to ensure the span retained structural integrity.

In 1924, the War Department granted the land at either end of the bridge to the Bridging the Golden Gate Association. Four years later, The Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District was incorporated and tasked with the final design and construction of the span. The District's Board of Directors included citizens from six area counties. A $35 million bond issue was made in 1930 so construction could get underway. The bonds were retired in 1971, 41 years later.

Construction of the bridge took more than four years, from January, 1933 to April, 1937. 11 men died during this time, but the death toll would have been higher had it not been for the use of a safety net stretched under the span. 19 men were saved by the net. They formed the very unofficial Halfway to Hell Club. On May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to pedestrians. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington, D.C. which signaled the start of vehicle traffic across the bridge.

The center span of the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964, when the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City was completed. The center span is 4,200 feet long, nearly half the bridge's total length of 8,991 feet. It averages 220 feet above the water. More than 100,000 cars cross the span each day. 38 painters work full-time keeping the bridge looking new.

One of the sad byproducts of the Golden Gate Bridge's fame is the number of people who attempt suicide by jumping from it each year. The state of California kept a list of the number of jumpers, but stopped in 1995 after the number reached 1,000. It is estimated that number is now over 1,300. On average, someone jumps off the bridge every 15 days. Only 26 people are known to have survived the fall.

Official estimates state that at current levels of maintenance, the primary components of the Golden Gate Bridge will last another 130 years.

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