The Golden Gate Bridge draws millions of visitors from all around the world and is one of the West Coast’s most famous and beloved landmarks. The bridge’s history is as amazing as the structure itself and some of it may surprise you! Here are 7 facts about the Golden Gate Bridge that you may not have known.
1: The Golden Gate Bridge was not named after its orange color
The bridge was named after the area surrounding it, the Golden Gate strait. The Golden Gate Strait is the narrow body of water that leads the bay to the pacific ocean. The strait is responsible for much of San Francisco’s famous fog, wind, strong tides, and salty air. The strait got its name in 1846 by U.S. Army general and politician Captain John C. Frémont. He envisioned the area to be a “gateway” to trade with other countries and the strait reminded him of an important trade route in Turkey known as the “Golden Horn”. Thus, he dubbed the strait “the Golden Gate”.
2: The Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t supposed to be orange
The steel for the Golden Gate was initially painted in a red lead primer. When Irving F. Morrow, one of the bridges’s architects saw the color, he instantly fell in love. However, it would prove difficult to convince a 1930’s audience to choose such a radical color. Some wanted a classic aluminum gray, others wanted an opposing black, and the U.S. Navy pushed for a highly visible blue and yellow striped design. Morrow submitted a 29 page document “Report on Color and Lighting for the Golden Gate Bridge” arguing for vermillion.
In it he said:
“…local architecture has remained on the whole timidly colorless, hence without the accent
and warmth which the conditions call for.” (Page 4)
“while the design of the Golden Gate Bridge has qualities which would emerge to
some degree through almost any color, no color will enhance and enforce its majesty and
exhilarating scale as orange vermillion...” (Page 6).
Morrow was able to convince the city that vermillion would not only be striking, but that it would compliment the blue water and sky, misty white fog, and green rolling hills. The city eventually settled on the very dignified color, “International Orange,” which it has been painted with to this day.
3: The bridge was built during the great depression
in 1929, right at the beginning of the Great Depression, the Hoover administration denied funding for the project. This meant that the Golden Gate Bridge project would have to be funded locally. Initially, the Golden Gate Bridge was estimated to cost $100 million. However, the bridge’s chief Engineer, Joseph Strauss claimed that his project would only cost around $25 Million to complete. Luckily, Bank of America gave the project a bond of $35 million. The bridge ended up costing a couple million less and finished ahead of schedule.
4: Safety was a top priority
Jospeh Strauss hated the reckless reputation that bridgemen had and banned any “daredevilry” among his crew. In fact, Strauss created rigid safety guidelines and a lot of crew support. At the time, the project’s safety was said to have been the “most rigorous in the history of bridge-building” There was a field hospital set up at Fort Point and the crew were given specially made hard hats, respirator masks, glare-free goggles, creams, and even special diets to help them stay strong.
Famously, a safety net was constructed underneath the bridge to protect workers from falls. The net ended up saving 19 men who became known as the “Half-Way-to-Hell Club.” This moniker came about because it was said that those who fell over the net went all the way down to hell, while those who survived only went halfway.
5: Still, eleven men died during the construction of the Golden Gate
The first fatality was a man named Kermit Moore, who died by slipping and falling off of the bridge in October of 1936. Four months later, ten men were killed when a section of scaffolding fell through the safety net and took the men down with them. This brought the death toll to eleven. You can find a plaque dedicated to these workers along the south side entrance to the west sidewalk on the bridge.
6: Many thought the Golden Gate could not be built
Many believed the Golden Gate Bridge would be impossible to build and it soon became known as “the bridge that couldn’t be built”. Some were concerned about harming the beauty and natural environment of the strait. Others were worried that the bridge would disrupt ships carrying lumbar and other large vessels that needed to get into the area. Some critics thought that the strait was too dangerous to build on and even called the bridge’s design “an upside-down rat trap.”
Luckily, the project persevered and on the bridge’s opening day, Joseph Strauss, the bridge’s chief engineer spoke defiantly to all of the naysayers:
“The bridge which could not and should not be built, which the [U.S.] War Department
would not permit, which the rocky foundation of the pier base would not support, which
would have no traffic to justify it, which would ruin the beauty of the Golden Gate, which
could not be completed within my costs estimate of $27,165,000, stands before you in all its
majestic splendor, in complete refutation of every attack made upon it.”
7: The opening of the Golden Gate was a raucous affair
The Golden Gate Bridge was officially opened to the public on May 27, 1937. Thousands of people showed up early waiting in line in hopes of winning one of the many “firsts”— the first to ride a unicycle, play a trombone, etc. on the bridge. By the time the bridge opened some 18,000 people were waiting to cross. Throughout the day, 15,000 people crossed the bridge per hour for 25 cents each. The atmosphere was lively and fun with Hot Dog stands, parades, marching bands, and at night— an enormous fireworks display.
The next day, May 28th, 1937, President Frank D. Rosevelt “pressed a golden telegraph button to ceremonially open the Golden Gate Bridge to vehicular traffic.” FDR did this from the Oval Office at 3 pm EST so that the bridge could officially open to traffic at noon. The rest of the day was full of speeches and ceremonies as well as military flyovers and ship fleets across the bay to celebrate the occasion.
Today, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge has been used by over a billion people and has survived weather, earthquakes, and the test of time.
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