“When U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in Washington on May 28, 1937 to signal the bridge’s official opening to the world, it set off a cacophony of church bells, fog horns, car horns, and shouts that inaugurated a week of celebrations. Thirty eight ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet steamed under the new crossing. Flood lights illuminated the bridge at night turning its paint a rich gold, and it quickly became known as the “Span of Gold.”… Eighteen hundred cars and 2100 pedestrians crossed in the first hour of its operation and by midnight of opening day, an estimated 25,000 cars and 19,350 had paid their tolls (fifty cents per car, five cents per pedestrian).”
Such was the scene of merriment and celebration when the mighty and beautiful “Golden Gate Bridge” opened to vehicular traffic on today’s date, May 28 in 1937, as recorded by Donald Mac Donald.
Joseph Strauss – Bridge Dreamer
The idea of a bridge crossing the Golden Gate had been discussed before, but the proposal that eventually was accepted was made in a 1916 San Francisco Bulletin article by James Wilkins, a one-time engineering student. But the estimated cost of $100 million was viewed as impractical (which at that time it was). So the idea was put to prospective bridge engineers for a less pricey version. One man who made a proposal was Joseph Strauss (below, 2’nd from right) was an ambitious but dreamy engineer and poet who had, for his graduate thesis, designed a 55-mile (89 km) long railroad bridge across the Bering Strait. At the time, Strauss had completed some 400 drawbridges—most of which were inland—and nothing on the scale of the new project. His plan was adopted.
Strauss, Ellis & Moisieff – the Builders
Strauss really took to the idea, campaigning vigorously for over a decade to get funds for the bridge approved. He squared off repeatedly during this time with various groups – the “Old Guard” interests of environmentalists, ferry operators, city administrators, and even the engineering community. But in November of 1930, with the Great Depression already having gone on for a year, voters nevertheless approved a bond issue for Strauss’ bridge. The ambitious project finally had its go signal from the people of San Francisco. Strauss was a brilliant engineer, nevertheless he alienated many people in his drive to build this structure — his first suspension bridge. Obsessed with claiming credit as the man responsible for the bridge’s creation, he downplayed the vital work done by Charles Ellis and Leon Moissieff (above, far right), the two bright and visionary men who actually worked out the significant engineering challenges of building the bridge. Strauss’ detractors kept a statue of the chief engineer proposed for the bridge plaza from being produced. But his widow would eventually fund its creation in 1941, giving it the inscription: “Joseph B. Strauss, 1870-1938, ‘The Man Who Built the Bridge (pictured, below).'”
Construction Begins in 1933
Construction began on January 5, 1933. The project cost more than $35 million. Strauss remained head of the project, looking after daily construction details and making some groundbreaking contributions. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, he had put a brick from his (and MY) alma mater’s demolished McMicken Hall in the south anchorage before the concrete was poured. He pioneered the employment of movable safety netting right below the construction site, which saved the lives of many steelworkers, who would otherwise have plummeted to their deaths. Out of eleven men killed from falls during construction, ten were killed as the job neared it’s finish, when the net failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen others were saved by the net during the bridge’s construction.
The project was finished by April 1937. “The Golden Gate Bridge” cost the community nearly $35 million during its five-year construction, but this was about 1.3 million under budget. Its name comes from the body of water over which it spans, Golden Strait. The “gold” comes from the strait’s location at the mouth of the North Bay, beyond which lies the gold of California. Anyone who has seen it — as I have — can readily attest that it is a truly wondrous sight. As part of both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1, it connects the city of San Francisco on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County. The weight of the roadway is hung from two cables that pass through the two main towers and are fixed in concrete at each end. Each cable is made of 27,572 strands of wire. There are 80,000 miles (129,000 km) of wire in the main cables. The bridge has approximately 1,200,000 total rivets.
And it DID happen on May 28‘th!!
And just to be SURE that I’ve got the right date here: Ceremonial festivals began on the 27’th of May in 1937 and went on for a whole week! But the actual pressing of the telegraph key by F.D.R. opening the span to VEHICULAR traffic did in fact occur on today’s date, May 28’th. Website http://goldengatebridge.org/research/OpeningFiestaWeek.php states that the pedestrians got first crossing privileges on the 27’th, but the opening of the bridge to vehicular traffic — which is afterall the bridge’s main purpose — occurred on the 28’th.
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“Golden Gate Bridge” by Donald MacDonald, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA., 2008