5 Things You Didn't Know About The Golden Gate Bridge

On January 5, 1933, construction crews broke ground on what would become an icon of San Francisco and the United States at large: the Golden Gate Bridge.  Here are five things you didn't know about the Golden Gate Bridge...


The Great Depression Nearly Stopped Construction # Photo credit: By Rich Niewiroski Jr. - http://www.projectrich.com/gallery, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1520007. Plans for a bridge from San Francisco to Marin County had been batted around since the late 1800s, but they didn't really get going until the 1910s. As plans were being finalized and designs drawn up, the Great Depression slammed businesses across the nation in 1929. While not a good thing at the time, there was one very good aftereffect: The plans and designs for the bridge had to be scaled back, resulting in the current bridge design we know and love today. The budget was chopped severely, giving developers only a third of what they originally wanted, but luckily, engineers came up with the right design.

The "Golden Gate" Is Actually a Strait # Photo credit: By NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data from the NASA EO-1 team. Many people mistakenly attribute the name to the bridge's color or believe the name spawns from the California gold rush of the mid-nineteenth century when in fact, the bridge is named after the passage of water it stretches over: the Golden Gate Strait. That strait is the gateway between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean and was named by an explorer, John C. Frémont, who wrote in his memoirs that the passageway reminded him of the "Golden Horn" Harbor in modern-day Istanbul. The name stuck and some 87 years later became the moniker for one of the most famous bridges in the world.


Even Before Construction Started, Over 2,000 Lawsuits Were Filed to Stop the Bridge The construction of a huge bridge had more than a few foes. The Southern Pacific Railroad held a majority stake in the ferry company that took people across the strait, so the railroad company sued because it didn't want to lose business; the Sierra Club was also opposed because it didn't want the bridge to change the look of the bay and strait. By 1930, about 2,300 lawsuits were pending against the bridge and its developers. However, the public decided the bridge would be a good addition—especially after locals were promised a first look at jobs—and they boycotted the ferry service. After several court rulings and federal approvals, the construction began.

The Bridge is Painted "International Orange" The color is actually not "golden" at all. Rather, it's known as "international orange" and is the same color used by NASA for astronaut spacesuits. That wasn't necessarily the plan all along: other proposed colors included gray, black, aluminum, and even a black-and-yellow striped bridge that would increase visibility for passing ships. Ultimately, however, the architects landed on the reddish-orange color you see today after being inspired by the basic red primer coated on the steel beams when they arrived in San Francisco. International orange not only blends well with the surrounding natural environment, but it also stands out well in fog—a big win for San Francisco. 

Construction Work on the Bridge Included Pioneering Safety Measures Construction work in the 1930s was much more dangerous than it is today, with people regularly dying in the process; the general odds at the time were one death per million dollars of budget. Joseph Strauss, the lead engineer, did not want his workers dying. He required safety measures that sound reasonable but that, at the time, weren't typical of worksites. There was no joking around, workers had to wear customized hard hats and goggles that reduced glare, they had to eat diets that reduced the risk of becoming dizzy (or so Strauss claimed; no word on how effective these diets actually were), and they had to use hand and face cream to avoid skin problems from the strong winds that funneled through the strait. Strauss even installed a net below the bridge that saved 19 lives. These workers earned the nickname of the "Halfway to Hell" club.

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