Golden Gate Bridge History

History of the Golden Gate Bridge


The Golden Gate Bridge was not only one of the most advanced architectural marvels of its time but also one of the most beautiful. With the rolling hills of the Marin Headlands to the North, the bustling city of San Francisco to the South, and the glistening waters of the San Francisco Bay just below, the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge is awe-inspiring from every angle and has captured both the hearts and imaginations of millions.

The Golden Gate Bridge received its name in 1846 when Captain John Fremont named the strait which it spans “Chrysophlae,” meaning Golden Gate, after the harbor in Istanbul called “Chrysoceras,” meaning Golden Horn. Its signature color, a shade of orange vermillion officially deemed International Orange, was chosen because it blended well with its natural surroundings and passing ships could spot it easily from a distance.

By the year 1920, San Francisco had recovered from a devastating earthquake, had hosted an international exposition, and was now at the top of its game. On the downside, it was choked with traffic, and the ferry boats had reached their fullest capacity. San Francisco was the largest American metropolis surrounded by water, and there was no more room to expand. San Francisco had just been replaced by Los Angeles as the largest city in California and needed to find population outlets. The time had come to build two bridges: one that would connect San Francisco to the east (the Bay Bridge) and one that would connect it to the north.

Once the decision had been made that the construction of a bridge was in order, many questions arose, including the most important one of all: how do we build it? The engineering challenges that the builders had to face were daunting. First of all, there were natural and geographical obstacles: the Pacific Ocean and its treacherous tides and currents below, ragged coastal terrain, gale force winds, and the ever-present vulnerability to earthquakes.

To add to the architectural complexity, the center channel of the Golden Gate Strait is 335 feet deep, so the supporting structure of the bridge would have to be anchored farther down than any other structure that preceded it. Above the surface, this was one of the busiest harbors in the world at the time, so the bridge would also have to be tall enough to let large ships pass underneath. Any bridge built here would have to be capable of withstanding these combined difficulties.

Three men would find a way to pool all of their gifts and talents to make this fantastic bridge a reality.

The first man, one of the most powerful men in San Francisco of the time, was Michael O’Shaughnessy. The City Engineer of San Francisco, he had played a major part in rebuilding San Francisco after the traumatizing earthquake of 1906. He had the mayor’s full support and had valuable experience at taking on the most daunting of tasks and achieving what was commonly perceived to be impossible.

The second, most famous man was Joseph B. Straus, whose outward shyness and soft-spoken demeanor masked his adventurous spirit and his limitless imagination. His visionary ideas coupled with his political savviness contributed enormously to the construction of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Though perhaps not quite as well-known as either O’Shaughnessy or Straus, Charles Ellis, the third man, played critical role in the design and engineering of the new bridge. A professor of structural and bridge engineering at the prestigious University of Illinois, he was hired by Joseph B. Straus because of his unparalleled experience in and knowledge of both the theoretical and practical aspects of bridge construction.

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