San Francisco recently commemorated the 83rd birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was started in January 1933. This is probably the most pictured bridge in the world, not to mention its most breathtaking! So, while crossing this iconic bridge, you can enlighten your pals with one of these 15 remarkable facts about the Golden Gate Bridge:
1. The Golden Gate Bridge Isn’t the World’s Longest Suspension Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge between the years 1937 and 1964. In 1964, one of several bridge developers, Othmar Hermann Ammann (a man with lots of ms and ns), proudly constructed the 60-foot longer Verrazano Narrows Suspension Bridge in New York City. The Golden Gate Bridge is currently the world’s 9th longest bridge. Even though it started falling behind other suspension bridges in the 60s in terms of size, it’s still the most iconic one, with its image often displayed with a touch of nostalgia in media such as movies, TV shows and San Francisco guide books.
2. Do Not Ever Let the US Navy Choose Your Colors
Just before engineers decided to go with international orange, the US Navy was campaigning hard for gold and black stripes, similar to a warning signal that could alert passing vessels. Fortunately, the US Navy’s suggestion was sidelined. Imagine one of the most well-known bridges in the world, in the capital of the hippie movement of all places, being gold and black. Do you think it would have attained all the fame that it has? Probably not, so let’s refrain from allowing the military to have any say when it comes to style and design. Otherwise, we’re going to be looking at stripes for the rest of our lives.
3. The ‘Little Guy Who Constructed the Big Bridge’ Was Kind of a Prick
Joseph Strauss, a 5’3 drop-out college football player from Cincinnati, was the infamously prickly mastermind of the venture. His initial suggestion for the design in 1922 was very unappealing. The press compared it to an ‘upside rat cage’. Thankfully, Charles Ellis, a math genius, saved the master plan, and he is the one who is mostly accountable for turning the bridge into a beauty. Strauss terminated him because of it, making sure he didn’t get any recognition at the time. However, a plaque commemorating Ellis was placed on the bridge in 2012 for the very first time. Jocks never change it seems!
4. The Golden Gate has Absolutely No Association to the Gold Rush
John C. Fremont branded the strait spanned by the bridge ‘Chrysopylae’, or ‘Golden Gate,’ referring to Istanbul’s Golden Horn, in 1846, just a couple of years before gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, California. Incidentally, Vladivostok even had a curving bay labelled after the Golden Horn. One may ask why Istanbul appears to keep the copyright on curving bays. However, it’s quite common for cities in the US to be named after European cities, so why wouldn’t the same thing apply to bridges? Today though, some would say that the Golden Gate bridge is more famous than Istanbul, but we suppose it depends on who you’re asking.
5. The Bridge’s Greatest Risk was Posed by a Party
Many people doubted whether a bridge could get across a mile-wide strait, especially when they considered the hurdles of tides, wind, corrosive fogs and the risk of earthquakes. However, the greatest risk that the bridge has experienced during its record was posed by its 50th celebration, when 300,000 people crossed the bridge at the same time. This was way over the estimated capacity, as 300,000 made up about 30 million pounds of humans. The bridge compressed, but it wasn’t stressed, as engineers pointed out. Perhaps because it had been strengthened the year before as if something like this had been expected to happen.
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6. Spain, Hurry! Look East, Look East!
The San Francisco Bay, reached via the Golden Gate Strait, was passed over for 227 straight years by passing Spanish vessels. It was eventually spotted in 1769 when weary hunters crossed overland and discovered the bay. Three years later, finally, the strait had been discovered from present-day Oakland. This adds a certain level of secrecy and mystery to it, seeing as how it has remained undiscovered for such a long period of time. Imagine being one of those hunters to spot it for the first time, coming up over the hill and seeing it unfold – what a magnificent sight to behold!
7. The Golden Gate Bridge is the Second 83-year-old Bridge in San Francisco
Let’s keep in mind that the Bay Bridge linking San Francisco to Oakland (striking through Yerba Buena Island along the way) celebrated its anniversary a few months earlier, even though it’s a ‘mere trestle,’ based on Golden Gate Bridge’s chief engineer (and notable trash-talker) Joseph Strauss (yeah, I know he’s a real prick). Who would have guessed that there would be such a competitive bridge-building scene in San Francisco? Seeing how Mr Strauss was like in the retrospect, it’s a real wonder he didn’t try to sink his competitor’s bridge just to prove a point. If palaeontologists can sabotage one another, why not architects?
8. Fort Point Was Never Removed, They Built a Bridge Prequel Instead
Constructed in 1861 to safeguard San Francisco’s harbour, Fort Point still stands – at the place where Kim Novak leaps in the bay in Vertigo – since the engineers genuinely wished for it to remain. For this, they constructed a ‘prequel to the bridge:’ an arched framework that conveniently towers over the fort. It seems like a very nice gesture on the engineers’ side, trying to maintain the cultural history of the place while making something new at the same time. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more amalgamations such as this one in the future, it seems that culture and history are often sacrificed for the sake of progress.
9. Most Popular Suicide Spot
Although Strauss brushed off issues of the fairly low hurdle within the pedestrian crossing lane, the bridge regrettably became a well-known location for suicides very soon after its its opening. In fact, its notoriety as a suicide spot was cemented only three months after it opened, when H.B. Wobber said ‘this is where I get off’ and jumped. More than 1300 people have leaped ever since, but several survived. The Golden Gate Bridge is regarded as the most favored suicide location on the planet. Even though crisis advising phones have already been installed across the bridge, the thought of putting security nets have been kept in local debates and, at this moment, no approved projects for safety nets are in place.
10. Fairly Few Workers Lost Their Lives Building the Bridge
It’s horrifying to be aware of the fact that civil engineering work has a tendency to presume one worker dying for every $1 million invested. The Golden Gate Bridge cost $35 million, but only 11 passed away while it was being built – lower than several similar works (in fact, Melbourne’s little Westgate Bridge saw 35 worker deaths). Nineteen people fell, but they were luckily caught in the safety nets. Those nineteen people are now referred to as the ‘Halfway to Hell Club’. Unfortunate accidents do happen, but we can thank security measures for the existence of such a club – sadly, it’s better than having a greater loss of life.
11. Workers Got Free Hangover Juice
Engineers gave free sauerkraut juice every morning to help workers fight hangovers. A primary reason, a few believe, for the outstanding efficiency of the build. Considering that this step was necessary, it begs the question of why they needed to get so drunk in the first place, coming to work on such a dangerous project. Makes you wonder about all those people that fell in the safety nets, doesn’t it? Regardless of their reasoning, they’ve done masterful work on the bridge. It’s funny though, thinking about those engineers being prepared for drunk construction workers, providing them with hangover fixers. How often does this happen?
12. The Car Toll is US$6, or Dentures
Toll collectors have allowed several vehicles to pass without having to pay the fee, but sometimes they require an exchange of some strange items instead. A few examples are canes, shoes and even dentures. Who knows what else they’ve gotten along the way, working an eight-hour shift there. In other words, it’s better to have $6 on you, or weird people working those toll booths will examine your mouth looking for something of value. We’ve heard of at least a dozen strange tolls that people need to pay to get somewhere, but this one definitely takes the cake – right out of your mouth, apparently.
13. The Bridge’s 75th Birthday Also Marked the 75th Anniversary of bad Golden Gate Bridge Poetry
Joseph Strauss, who had often not been present throughout the building of the bridge, read a poem to commemorate its opening on May 27, 1937. Let’s just say it didn’t have the impact he was hoping for. He doesn’t really strike us as a kind of guy who writes poetry, but you never know. Maybe he left college before he could work on it properly. Or maybe, he didn’t have $6 on him to get past the greedy toll booth personnel, traded the original poem for passage and had to come up with the new one on the spot. We can only speculate.
14. What’s the Name of the Color?
A few tourists ponder why the bridge isn’t gold or created from real gold (or at best gold coloured). Other folks, like me, have incorrectly identified the colour as red. It is, in fact, known as ‘international orange’ – a deviation from the colour widely used for several astronaut jumpsuits. It was definitely a good looking mishap. The steel pieces came in an orange-red paint primer, which instantly proved to combine best with the surroundings. It matches perfectly with the earthy colours present on both ends of the bridge, and when it’s time for sunset, an explosion of colours commences.
15. Art Can’t Seem to Capture its Beauty
From his book Golden Gate, Keven Starr remarks that the Golden Gate Bridge has ‘not yet inspired any paintings comparable to Joseph Stella’s freestanding Brooklyn Bridge,‘ neither has it influenced any poetry similar to ‘league of Hart Crane’s ‘The Bridge’.
The rock band Journey composed ‘Lights’ in 1979, which features the line: ‘when the lights go down in the city, and the sun shines on the bay.’ This is often considered to be associated with the bridge, but there’s hardly any guarantee. In fact, Singer Steve Perry has in the meantime revealed that the track was initially moved by the bay-less Los Angeles. On the other hand, keep away from the band Train, which put this blooper of a rhyme in the song ‘Save Me San Francisco’: ‘Everyday so caffeinated, I wish they were Golden Gated.’
16. Construction Took Only Four Years
The construction of this fine bridge began in January 1933 and was finished in 1937, even though it took place right in the middle of the Great Depression. It was an excellent feat of skill, craftsmanship and hard work. It makes the whole deal about workers appearing for work drunk or hungover far more plausible. Golden Gate Bridge appears to be a window into the past, revealing to us more about the lives of people who struggled just to barely stay alive. Another interesting thing to mention is that it cost less than what was estimated. Now, that’s a successful project!
17. War Department Had to Green Light It
Did you know that both ends of the strait were owned by the War Department? For that reason, they had to provide a permit for the construction to start. First, they only issued a temporary permit in December 1924, and after six years, in August 1930, they gave the final green light for the construction to begin. This brings us back to the point about choosing the colour scheme for the bridge and how the Navy wanted it to be black and gold stripes. Now it makes more sense that they were involved if you consider the entire strait as a military-controlled zone.
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18. Cables Were Made by The Same Company Responsible for Brooklyn Bridge
The cables that stretch horizontally from one side of the bridge to another were made by Roebling’s Sons Co., a company responsible for providing the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge. The spinning of these wires is a complicated, delicate process. However, using Roebling’s methods, they managed to get a 1,000 miles worth of wire spun in a single work day! This is one of the reasons why there were able to finish the construction ahead of time. This method alone saved them 8 months of work. It was at least one good call by Strauss, getting a professional company involved in the process.
19. Earthquake Struck Mid Construction
In June 1935, the thing that everyone feared the most happened. After only two years of construction, an earthquake struck the area while workers were busy on the south tower. They reported swaying at least 5 metres to each side, with no way for them to get down. The lift wasn’t working, so they had to stay up there and hope for the best. ‘The best’ in this case meant riding out the earthquake, however, if the construction were to collapse under them, they could only hope for the bridge to hit the water first. Nausea kicked in from all the swaying, so you can imagine it not being a pretty sight!
20. Golden Gate Shapes Fog
Or at least it has an impact on the way it forms. Sometimes, the Golden Gate bridge pushes the fog underneath it, or sends it high above, influencing the form in which fog ultimately reaches the city. Despite this being an interesting tidbit, fog poses a real threat to the bridge itself, corroding it and causing permanent damage. For that reason, the paint used to spruce the bridge up is zinc based, which serves as fodder for biting fogs. Zinc will get damaged first and only then the bridge. This is why the bridge is repainted on occasion, to provide that additional layer of protection.
21. Plenty of People Didn’t Want the Bridge
Southern Pacific Railroad owned 51% of all the ferry transport in the area. Before the bridge was constructed, people could only get around by boat and the company knew they would lose business. Sierra Club opposed the construction, claiming it would harm the beauty of the area. Two federal hearings, a mass boycott of ferries and approval from War Department were just a couple of things needed to get the construction underway and defeat 2,300 lawsuits that accrued in the year 1930. It was quite a feat to get started on the bridge, part of it due to agreeing on providing work to local people.
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22. Pop Culture
As we have already mentioned before, the Golden Gate Bridge is iconic, a legendary part of the United States, all thanks to its immortalization on TV screens. Some of these movies are Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Interview with the Vampire, A View to a Kill, X-Men: The Last Stand, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Monsters vs. Aliens, The Maltese Falcon and The Rock. Don’t forget about the important documentary called The Bridge which deals with the problem of suicides taking places at the Golden Gate. As you can see, it played a significant part in shaping our cinematography thanks to its beauty and ‘international orange’.
23. Troubles with the Weather
Besides corroding fog, the Golden Gate Bridge often had issues with the wind. The gap that it bridges seems to attract violent gusts of wind that can reach very dangerous speeds. Before 1983, it was already closed two times due to raging winds that often reached the speed of 70 mph. In 1983, it reached record 75 mph, when it was closed for 3 hours and 27 minutes, making it the longest closure in history. This, of course, includes events such as reconstructions and presidential visits (Roosevelt, De Gaulle). It was closed for 6 hours for the 50th anniversary in 1987.
24. Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
At the time, there was not a longer suspension bridge that also weighed as much as the Golden Gate did. In 1937, it weighed whopping 894,500 tons, a number that was reduced in the coming years due to re-decking. It is 4,200 feet long, which is about 1,7 kilometres. In 2014, it was estimated that more than 2 billion vehicles crossed the Golden Gate Bridge since its opening. Could that number have doubled in the last couple of years now that there are more vehicles on roads than ever? In 2017, toll revenues amounted to incredible $143,011,000. People have learned their lesson it seems, no more dentures.
25. Bonus Round, The Mighty Task Is Done
Have we sparked your curiosity when we mentioned that Joseph Strauss wrote a poem? We hope so because we are bringing it to you as the last remarkable fact about the Golden Gate Bridge.
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…
Did you like it? Don’t worry, a lot of people felt the same way during the opening ceremony. We hope you learned something new from our list and found at least a piece of information you didn’t know before.