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Golden Gate Bridge

What sights do you think of when you picture the city of San Francisco, California? How about the massive and lovely 4,200 foot orange painted steel suspension bridge known as the Golden Gate Bridge? It attracts over ten million visitors each year. 

The famous bridge was completed and opened to pedestrian traffic on May 27, 1937. The next day, with a push of a telegraph button in the White House, President Franklin Roosevelt opened the bridge to cars too. Until 1964, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. (Today, the Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge in Japan boasts the longest span at over 6,500 feet.) 

How did the bridge get its name? The area known as the Golden Gate is the channel formed where the mouth of the San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. People used the name Golden Gate as early as 1846, even before the gold rush and long before the bridge.

Construction of the bridge began in 1932 during the Great Depression when jobs were scarce. The men working on the four-and-a-half-year Golden Gate Bridge project were greatly envied. Even though the work was dangerous, the bridge workers were grateful to have employment.

Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss designed something to combat the dangerous working conditions on the bridge. He introduced the hard hat and a safety net that stretched end to end under the bridge. Nineteen workers fell. Saved by that net, they called themselves the Half Way to Hell Club.

Unfortunately, the net did not hold on February 17, 1937. Up until that date, there had been only one fatality during the construction of the bridge. On that sad February day, ten men lost their lives when a section of scaffold carrying twelve men fell through the safety net.

Balancing high above the freezing ocean water, painting the bridge is an ongoing task and the primary maintenance job. The paint protects the bridge from the high salt content air which rusts and corrodes steel components. The bridge has always been painted orange vermilion, deemed “International Orange.” Morrow, the main architect, chose the color because it blends well with the span’s natural setting. 

In May 1987, the bridge celebrated its 50th anniversary. Some 300,000 people reenacted “Pedestrian Day ’37” with an event dubbed “Bridge-walk ’87.” Two years later, the gracefully suspended bridge withstood a 7.1 magnitude earthquake without incident.

Today, more than 41 million vehicles cross the Golden Gate Bridge annually. Drivers must pay an $8 per car cash toll to cross the bridge. While driving on it, make sure not to speed. The speed limit on the bridge is 45 miles per hour, and it’s a double-fine zone.

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners

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