When 19th century settlers crossed the plains in their rush for California gold, they discovered that a 400-foot deep strait separated the San Francisco Peninsula from the southern part of Marin County.
The Golden Gate Strait, the mouth of San Francisco Bay, featured rapidly running tides as well as heavy (and frequent) fog and storms. And then there were the earthquakes.
In 1872, railroad entrepreneur Charles Crocker was the first to call for a bridge to cross the strait. The idea languished.
At the height of World War I (1916), a former engineering student, who was a journalist at the San Francisco Bulletin, suggested a suspension bridge could be built across the strait. It would have a center span of 3,000 feet, which was about twice the length of any suspension bridge in the world.
By August 1919, city officials had directed Michael M. O’Shaughnessy, the city engineer, to begin studying the possibility of building a bridge. Ferry folks complained, of course.
O’Shaughnessy began to consult a number of engineers across the United States about feasibility and cost of building a bridge across the strait. Most speculated that a bridge would cost over $100 million and that one could not be built. But it was Joseph Baermann Strauss that came forward and said such a bridge was not only feasible, but could be built for $25 to $30 million (emphasis added).
Almost five years later, San Francisco and Marin counties jointly applied to the War Department for a permission to build a bridge with a main span of at least 4,000 feet. The War Department had jurisdiction over harbor construction that might affect “shipping traffic or military logistics.” It also owned the land on either side of the strait.
It took several years for officials to jumped through all the hoops needed to get started. On 04 December 1928, the California State Legislature incorporated the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. The District, comprised of six member counties, was responsible for the final design, construction and financing of a bridge.
The Great Depression began in 1929. Money dried up.
On 04 November 1930, voters approved a $35 million bond that required voters to place their property as collateral. The vote was overwhelming in its support: 145,057 to 46,954.
The last of the construction bonds was retired in 1971, with $35 million in principal and nearly $39 million in interest being paid entirely from Bridge tolls. With the exception of the Sausalito Lateral approach road (Alexander Avenue today) which was built as a federal WPA project, there was no state or federal funds involved in building the Golden Gate Bridge.
In 1932, when the bonds went on sale, San-Francisco based Bank of America “agreed to buy the entire project in order to help the local economy.”
The Golden Gate Bridge officially opened to pedestrians on 27 May 1937. More than 200,000 people crossed the bridge: walking, sprinting, even roller-skating!
Schools, offices and stores were either closed or reduced to a skeleton staff. By 6am, the starting hour of Pedestrians Day, 18,000 people were waiting to cross the span from both the San Francisco and the Marin sides. When the hour struck, foghorns gave great blasts, the toll gates opened and the earliest and eagerest arrivals — most of them high school students — ran or walked out onto the bridge.
People walked backwards, balanced on lines, walked dogs and cats, and tap-danced across, all setting first-time records. A man blew a tuba, people rode on unicycles and others played harmonicas while crossing, as well.
It was the longest bridge span in the world.
The toll-bridge opened to vehicles on 28 May 28, 1937. It was under budget and ahead of schedule.
- The main span is:4,200 feet (1,280 metres) long and is suspended from two cables hung from towers 746 feet (227 metres) high
- At midpoint, the roadway is 265 feet (81 metres) above mean high water.
- Until the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City opened in 1964, the Golden Gate had the longest main span in the world.