As one of California's most iconic landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge was a major engineering feat of its time. People from all over the world flock to San Francisco just to walk across the nearly 9,000-foot suspension bridge and peer over its edges at the churning Pacific water of the Golden Gate Strait below.
The Longest Suspension Bridge
At the time of its construction in the 1930s, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It maintained this point of pride for nearly 25 years until the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was built in New York in 1964. Even today, this historic San Francisco landmark holds its place as the second largest suspension bridge in the country.
An Impossible Feat
Experts thought that it would be impossible to build a bridge across the mile wide Golden Gate Strait as the tides and currents in that area are frighteningly strong and would make construction extremely difficult and dangerous. The water is over 300 feet deep in the center of the channel, and along with the area's strong winds and thick fog, the idea of building a bridge there seemed like an impossibility in the early 1900s.
Despite all the drawbacks of building such a bridge, Joseph Strauss was named as lead engineer for the project. Construction began January 5, 1933 and by its completion four years later, the bridge cost more than $35 million to build. According to the CNN Library, it was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. By comparison, the cost to build this bridge in the 21st century would be about $1.2 billion.
Unprecedented Safety Measures
During the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, very few workmen's lives were lost due to a huge safety net installed under the bridge to catch workers who fell while on the job. Such a large safety mechanism was a completely new endeavor and saved the lives of 19 men who were thereafter called members of the "Halfway to Hell Club."
A Gateway to Northern California
Before the Golden Gate Bridge (and several others, such as the Bay, San Mateo, Richmond and Benicia bridges) were built, the only way to get from San Francisco to Marin County was by ferry. To drive the entire way would have taken several hours as the only roads went down through the South Bay and up through the East Bay. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge represented the dawn of a new era for Bay Area residents, making it much easier to travel north up the coast from San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge Suicides
One unfortunate situation that affects the importance of the Golden Gate Bridge is the fact that it is the most popular suicide site in the United States. With the deck nearly 250 feet above the churning currents, jumpers reach speeds of up to 75 miles an hour by the time they hit the surface of the water.
Unfortunately, the impact with the water isn't always fatal - meaning that momentary survivors are dragged by the current over to the rocky crags that surround the Golden Gate strait. The tides act like a washing machine against the jagged rocks, making for a violent way to end things.
A Marvel of Modern Engineering
The Golden Gate Bridge has stood the test of time, being closed to traffic just three times due to weather conditions. In 1989, it held strong against the destructive force of the Loma Pieta earthquake. This majestic landmark is thought to be the most photographed bridge in the world and in 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers named it as one of the Seven Civil Engineering Wonders of the United States. If you're planning a trip to San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is a definite must-see.