How was the Golden Gate Bridge built? Find out here, plus see photos of the construction

See how they built San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

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How  San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was first built (1937)

By J Lawrence Toole – Official Souvenir Program: Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta

Byron tells us that “History with all its volumes hath but a single page.”

On that page can now be written a new and shining sentence, to endure forever in annals of the world’s achievements and genius: The Golden Gate Bridge was opened.

The biggest task that ever challenged the genius, courage and will of man has been accomplished. After nearly a century of dreaming, decades of talk, and five years of heroic labor, the Bridge stands here, the noblest structure of steel upon this planet.

The old Golden Gate before the bridge
Before the bridge: Alcatraz and the Golden Gate (between 1898 and 1905)

TO every stranger who sees it for the first time the wonder of its size, of its beauty and its grace will be an imperishable memory. They will be told its story and amazed.

Generation after generation the story and enchantment of the Golden Gate Bridge will be handed on by all who come under its spell.

Custom will not stale, nor time wither the birth of this wonder structure today stretching across the mile-wide expanse of ocean water where San Francisco’s dramatic history began, the Golden Gate. The Golden Gate!

Its glittering bars are the breakers high / Its hinges are hills of granite / Its bolts are the winds, its arch the sky / Its cornerstone a planet.

Now, this day and forever, far above those high breakers there stretches between granite hills, under the arch of the sky, the mightiest single-span bridge ever built, final accomplishment of an engineering achievement without equal or comparison.

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (4)

DEEP into time goes back the dream of a bridge across the Golden Gate.

Old, old Indian legends tell of a day when inland valleys and all of San Francisco Bay was a great lake and how, by prayer and supplication a miracle was performed and a great gap cleft between the lake and sea, that gap which is the Golden Gate. More or less, geologists agree that this happened although their theory of its happening does not agree with Indian legend.

Somehow, some time, it happened, and through the ages that gap has been. Through it from time immemorable the Pacific Ocean has poured into the bay that was once a lake.

Through it just 160 years ago a Spanish navigator, Ayala, steered the first ship ever to anchor in the Bay. Since then, led in the beginning by adventurous sailors bent on conquest, Spanish, Russian, English, ships and commerce of all the world have sailed and steamed through the Golden Gate in unceasing and ever-increasing number, until today the Golden Gate Bridge looks upon one of the greatest commercial ports in the world.

MORE: 11 views of the 19th century San Francisco skyline: From a brand-new city to busy metropolis

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (5)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (6)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (4)

The story of how the Golden Gate Bridge was first built

AYALA’S little ship “San Carlos” had found a bay empty, save for a few low-hewn craft, but a harbor of undreamed of magnitude and beauty, the harbor navigators had sought on this edge of the Pacific for 200 years before his discovery. The greatest navigator of all, Drake, had missed somehow by a few ship lengths.

A year after Ayala’s coming, the Spanish soldier Anza arrived at the Golden Gate, and planted a cross and the flag of Spain near the point now known as Old Fort Point — San Francisco terminal of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There a tiny Spanish settlement started and grew. This settlement, springing up around the adobe church of the Mission Dolores and the adobe Spanish officers’ clubhouse of the Presidio, was not the beginning of San Francisco.

Down near the Bay, the little settlement of Yerba Buena had been started. In 1847, the name of Yerba Buena was changed to San Francisco, a year after the American flag had been raised in this city and at Monterey.

At that time, the total population of San Francisco was 470, and that it remained until 1849 and the discovery of gold. In that single year of 1849, 700 ships sailed through the Golden Gate, and San Francisco expanded to a city of more than 40,000.

ALSO SEE: How the California Gold Rush of 1849 began, and what life was really like for the miners

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (9)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (2)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (13)

FROM those days, when daring adventurers flocked by untrodden land and sea trails to San Francisco Bay the dream of a Bridge across the Golden Gate persisted. Pioneers viewed the stretch of turbulent water that barred progress dry-shod to the north and longed for a bridge.

Their dream grew, to die under the frowns of generations that declared it impossible, grew again as other generations grew, and died again. Always it came to life. And now at last it is realized. The realization of San Francisco’s dream is before your eyes.

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (8)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (7)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (10)

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (11)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (12)

They will tell you that due to the constantly varying winds and temperature at the Bridge site, the Bridge is always moving.

Take the cables for example. Engineers say if they were detached and laid out on the ground they would be 21 feet shorter than their hanging length. That measurement is the “stretch” caused by the immense load they support.

These factors were an important element in the designing of the Bridge, and the elements enter into them.

MORE: Accidentally historic: See ‘A Trip Down Market Street,’ filmed just before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake & fire

If the temperature dropped from the San Francisco normal of 70 degrees to 30 degrees, the cables will contract. This would “pull” the giant towers closer to each shore, and the roadway of the span would be automatically raised in the center of the span where the cables reach down to support the center.

The maximum rise under such conditions would be ten feet, it is estimated. With a high temperature and a full load of traffic, the roadway would drop ten feet at the extreme. Therefore, the 220-foot clearance at the center of the span as required by the War Department was raised to 236 feet to fill requirements.

And while motorists crossing the span won’t be able to feel it, engineers say wind pressure and other elements are capable of swinging the Bridge deck at its center sideways as much as 21 feet.

This “giving” or elasticity gives strength to the whole structure and absorbs stresses and strains.

See how they built San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

The never-ending job of painting the Golden Gate Bridge (1937)

Paint, great guardian of science against rust and corrosion of steel, has played an important part in the completion of the Bridge, and will continue to serve through the ages.

Approximately 110,000 gallons of paint, of a color specially designed in the bay district, and known as “international orange,” was required to paint the Bridge with the necessary coats.

Permanent crews of painters will be kept busy constantly on the gigantic span, working up and down the sky-high towers and truss work — any place where there is steel, to keep the painting program up to date and prevent actions developed by the salt air, and other unusual weather conditions which prevail at the Bridge site. (See the modern-day description of the paintwork here.)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (14)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (15)

ALSO SEE: See 30 photos of daredevil skyscraper construction workers hanging out at dizzying heights over New York City

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (1)

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (11)

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (8)

Scenes of building the famous Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (9)

MORE: How downtown San Francisco was built on top of abandoned Gold Rush ships

Golden Gate from SF’s Twin Peaks, before the bridge (1922)

1922 Golden Gate from Twin Peaks Boulevard--San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (5)

Golden Gate Bridge opened (1937)

Thousands rush across giant span that cost $35,000,000 to construct

The bridge that “couldn’t be built,” a towering two-mile span across the Golden Gate, was opened Thursday with a mad rush of pedestrians across its neck, and a cheer that, figuratively, echoed up and down the Pacific coast.

Hailed as an achievement of the “impossible,” the $35,000,000 structure began its useful existence by bearing a milling army of visitors and San Franciscoans [sic], all in fiesta mood.

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (2)

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (3)

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (10)

Chairman Arthur M Broth of the fiesta committee said the number crossing the huge span was nearly 100,000 in mid-afternoon. He had expected only that many by night.

Joseph M Strauss, designer and chief engineer of the $35,000,000 Golden Gate bridge, has not forgotten the University of Cincinnati, where he graduated in 1892.

Samuel O Beall, editor of Cincinnati Alumnus association, said Mr Strauss placed a brick from the original university building in one of the bridge’s concrete piers.

Golden Gate bridge opening

golden gate bridge open 193

Opening the Golden Gate bridge

Photo 1: The bridge with pedestrians, and one of the ships in the US Fleet passing under the Bridge. Photo 2: The chain-cutting ceremony at the Marin tower (the San Francisco/Marin County line) with San Francisco Mayor Angelo Joseph Rossi. Photo 3: The opening ceremony, courtesy San Francisco Public Library

MORE: 1906 San Francisco earthquake: Rare pictures & first reports made while the fires were still burning the city

Celebrate the Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge opening day was a big deal in the city and beyond!

A crowd is seen here attending the Bridge’s opening day festivities on May 27, 1937. 


Before the bridge was opened to automobile traffic, it was “Pedestrian Day” — May 27, 1937, marked the start of the week-long “Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta” to celebrate the landmark’s completion.

On that day, more than 200,000 people paid twenty-five cents each to walk the bridge. Below is a picture of a Golden (Gate) ticket from that memorable day in 1937.

golden gate bridge pedestrian day 1937

Golden Gate Bridge facts

From the 1937 opening ceremony program

— The Golden Gate Bridge gives a bird’s-eye view from the tower tops of twenty-seven and one-half miles.

— The roadway of the Bridges is as high above the water as a 23 to 25 story building, depending on temperature and tides.

— A string of automobiles reaching from the Mexican border to the Oregon line can be accommodated on the six-lane roadway of the Bridge, moving at a speed of 23 miles an hour, engineers estimate.

— Clearances of the Bridge are greater than any other suspension span in the world, measuring 4200 feet from center to center of the main towers, or 700 feet, 20 percent, longer than the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson River at New York. Vertical clearances vary from 210 feet at the towers with normal high water to 220 feet in the center under the same conditions, or 236 feet at low tide and temperature.

— The Bridge is the first one in the world to span the outermost entrance to a great harbor.

— The two 36 inch cables of the Bridge weigh 11,000 tons each, and contain 25,572 separate wires each.

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge - 1930s (3)

— Concrete paving of the Bridge roadways and sidewalks covers 723,000 square feet, with an additional 273,000 square feet in the Presidio viaduct.

— Estimated time saving for motorists using the Bridge compared to ferry schedules is 53 minutes per round-trip for commuters between Marin County points and San Francisco.

— The Bridge makes motorists independent of fog and other weather changes, eliminating traffic tie-ups, and gives them more leisure time.

— Increased property values alone will pay the entire cost of the Bridge in the area it serves, experts declare.

— One of the most impressive marine promenades and driveways in the world across a great body of water is provided by the Bridge.

— The Bridge will distinguish San Francisco’s great harbor entrance to a larger degree than the Statue of Liberty does New York harbor.

— The Bridge will aid navigation into the harbor with a lighthouse and fog-signals on the structure.

— Designated as a direct aid to military operations between the two military reservations at either end of the Bridge, it is the only project of its kind connecting two such reservations.

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (6)

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (7)

Original Golden Gate Bridge tolls

Golden Gate Bridge opening program - 1937 (1)

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

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