World Travel GuidesGolden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

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The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the opening of San Francisco Bay onto the Pacific Ocean. It is part of U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 connecting San Francisco on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County on the other side of the opening. At the time of its completion in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge span in the world. It became an internationally recognized icon of San Francisco and California. Even today, it is still the second longest suspension bridge main span in the United States, after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City.

The idea to build the bridge first took root in a 1916, from a proposal made in the San Francisco Bulletin article by former engineering student James Wilkins. At that time, San Francisco's City Engineer estimated the cost at $100 million, and fielded the question asking if bridge engineers could build it for less.

One who responded was Joseph Strauss. Up till then, Strauss had experience in completing some 400 drawbridges, but nothing approaching the scale of the upcoming project. Strauss's initially drew a design for a massive cantilever on each side of the strait, connected by a central suspension segment, which Strauss promised could be built for $17 million.

Local authorities agreed to proceed only on the assurance that Strauss alter the design and accept input from several consulting project experts. A suspension-bridge design was considered the most practical, because of recent advances in metallurgy.

The bridge faced opposition, including litigation, from many sources. The Department of War was concerned that the bridge would interfere with ship traffic. The navy feared that a ship collision or sabotage to the bridge could block the entrance to one of its main harbors. Unions demanded guarantees that local workers would be favored for construction jobs.

Southern Pacific Railroad, one of the most powerful business interests in California, opposed the bridge as competition to its ferry fleet and filed a lawsuit against the project, only to earn a mass boycott of the ferry service. In May 1924, Colonel Herbert Deakyne held the second hearing on the Bridge on behalf of the Secretary of War in a request to use Federal land for construction.

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge" style="text-decoration:none" target="_blank">Aslak Raanes (cc-by-sa-2.0) Deakyne, on behalf of the Secretary of War, approved the transfer of land needed for the bridge structure and leading roads to the "Bridging the Golden Gate Association" and both San Francisco County and Marin County, pending further bridge plans by Strauss. Another ally was the fledgling automobile industry, which supported the development of roads and bridges to increase demand for automobiles.

The name Golden Gate Bridge was first used when the project was discussed in 1917 by M.H. O'Shaughnessy, city engineer of San Francisco, and Strauss. The name became official with the passage of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act by the state legislature in 1923.

Strauss was made chief engineer in charge of overall design and construction of the bridge project. However, because he had little understanding or experience with cable-suspension designs, responsibility for much of the engineering and architecture fell on other experts. Irving Morrow, a relatively unknown residential architect, designed the overall shape of the bridge towers, the lighting scheme, and Art Deco elements such as the streetlights, railing, and walkways.

The famous International Orange color was originally used as a sealant for the bridge. Many locals persuaded Morrow to paint the bridge in the vibrant orange color instead of the standard silver or gray, and the color has been kept ever since.

Senior engineer Charles Alton Ellis, collaborating remotely with famed bridge designer Leon Moisseiff, was the principal engineer of the project. Moisseiff produced the basic structural design, introducing his "deflection theory" by which a thin, flexible roadway would flex in the wind, greatly reducing stress by transmitting forces via suspension cables to the bridge towers.

Although the Golden Gate Bridge design has proved sound, a later Moisseiff design, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, collapsed in a strong windstorm soon after it was completed, because of an unexpected aeroelastic flutter.

Ellis was a Greek scholar and mathematician who at one time was a University of Illinois professor of engineering despite having no engineering degree (he eventually earned a degree in civil engineering from University of Illinois prior to designing the golden gate bridge and spent the last twelve years of his career as a professor at Purdue University). He became an expert in structural design, writing the standard textbook of the time.

Ellis did much of the technical and theoretical work that built the bridge, but he received none of the credit in his lifetime. In November 1931, Strauss fired Ellis and replaced him with a former subordinate, Clifford Paine, ostensibly for wasting too much money sending telegrams back and forth to Moisseiff. Ellis, obsessed with the project and unable to find work elsewhere during the Depression, continued working 70 hours per week on an unpaid basis, eventually turning in ten volumes of hand calculations.

With an eye toward self-promotion and posterity, Strauss downplayed the contributions of his collaborators who, despite receiving little recognition or compensation, are largely responsible for the final form of the bridge. He succeeded in having himself credited as the person most responsible for the design and vision of the bridge.

Only much later were the contributions of the others on the design team properly appreciated. In May 2007, the Golden Gate Bridge district issued a formal report on 70 years of stewardship of the famous bridge and decided to right an old wrong by giving Ellis major credit for the design of the bridge.

Construction began on January 5, 1933. As head of the project, Strauss oversaw day-to-day construction and made groundbreaking contributions. He innovated the use of movable safety netting beneath the construction site which helped to save the lives of many otherwise-unprotected steelworkers.

Eleven men were killed from falls during construction, ten of which in an accident when the bridge was near completion, when the net failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen others who were saved by the net over the course of construction became proud members of the (informal) Halfway to Hell Club. The project was finished by April 1937, at a cost of $35 million, which was $1.3 million under budget.

The bridge-opening celebration began on 27 May 1937 and lasted for a week. The day before vehicle traffic was allowed, 200,000 people crossed by foot and roller skate. On opening day, Mayor Angelo Rossi and other officials rode the ferry to Marin, then crossed the bridge in a motorcade past three ceremonial "barriers," the last a blockade of beauty queens who required Joseph Strauss to present the bridge to the Highway District before allowing him to pass.

An official song, "There's a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate," was chosen to commemorate the event. Strauss wrote a poem that is now on the Golden Gate Bridge entitled "The Mighty Task is Done."

The next day, President Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington, DC signaling the official start of vehicle traffic over the Bridge at noon. When the celebration got out of hand, the SFPD had a small riot in the uptown Polk Gulch area. Weeks of civil and cultural activities called "the Fiesta" followed. A statue of Strauss was moved in 1955 to a site near the bridge.

Weather in Golden Gate Bridge

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Climate of San Francisco

San Francisco has a mild climate, with wet, mild winters and dry summers. For most months, the temperature hovers between 15°C and 25°C. Be prepared for cool humid weather, even in the summer (except September), when persistent fog often envelops the city.

Books on Golden Gate Bridge

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