The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate was the name given to the one mile wide strait through which a vessel passes to enter or depart San Francisco Bay. The headlands to the north of the strait are the San Francisco Peninsula, to the south is today’s Marin County. In the early days of settlement, the two headlands were connected only by ferries, which were forced to navigate nearly blind during their passage across due to the heavy fog which often enshrouded the area. By the 1920s these ferries were operating on a regular basis, transporting people, products, and vehicles, and included the Golden Gate Ferry Company, the largest ferry operation in the world.
Pressure to build a bridge across the Golden Gate increased with the growing popularity of the automobile and the delivery of goods to their destination by truck. Opponents to a bridge were supported by arguments stressing the difficulties imposed by the currents in the strait, the often dangerously high winds, and the pernicious fog. The War Department and the Department of the Navy both opposed the construction of a bridge, because of the possibility of closing the strait to naval traffic. The politically powerful Southern Pacific Railroad – which owned the Golden Gate Ferry Company – was concerned that the bridge would destroy its profitable ferry service.
Construction of the bridge began in January of 1933. A thin deck was designed to span the straits, able to flex in response to the winds and the loads placed upon it, with the loads transferred to wound steel cables which supported the deck. In turn the loads were transferred from the cables to the twin towers, which transferred them to the bedrock on which they stood. Construction took just over four years, at a cost of $35 million (just under $500 million today) and 14 lives. A week-long celebration took place following completion. The bridge has pathways for both pedestrians and cyclists, which can be used according to specific published schedules during the day.
The Golden Gate Bridge was the world’s longest suspension span when it opened, a title it retained until 1964. More than 80,000 miles of wire are wound together to form its cables and suspenders. More than 1.2 million rivets hold the framework together and its iconic orange color is maintained by a team of 38 painters. The bridge paid for its construction through the collection of tolls, with the construction loans being fully paid in 1971. Tolls today are used to defray maintenance and repair costs. They have also been used to cover the costs of suicide barriers, which began to be erected on the bridge in the spring of 2017.
The barriers were deemed necessary due to the over 1,500 deaths ascribed to the Golden Gate Bridge in the years since it opened in 1937. The bridge holds the dubious distinction of being the second most used for suicide in the world. Jumping from the center of the span generates an impact speed of roughly 75 miles per hour, depending on wind conditions. Impact with the water is usually fatal, and if the impact is survived hypothermia can set in quickly in the cold waters of the strait.