Today in History – February 22, 1985 – one billionth car crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, the bridge crosses the Golden Gate Strait between San Francisco and Marin County to the north. Construction began on January 5, 1933. The bridge was open to pedestrian traffic on May 27, 1937, but was not open to automobile traffic until a day later on May 28. The one-billionth car crossed the bridge on February 22, 1985 and the bridge gets its own U.S. postage stamp on September 3, 1998. The American Public Works Association ranks the bridge one of the Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century on September 19, 2000. The Golden Gate bridge has been declared one of the modern Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers and may have the distinction of being the most photographed bridge in the world.
After years of gathering support and funding for the bridge, Joseph Strauss oversaw its construction. The project was so massive that a Golden Gate District was formed to build the bridge. All in all the bridge ended up costing about 27 million dollars. One of the most innovative parts of the bridge’s construction was Strauss insistence on safety. Workers wore protective headgear, glare-free goggles, and even a special lotion that helped protect against the harsh winds. There was also a large net that was placed beneath the workers. When construction was completed in 1937 the net had saved nineteen lives. At the time of completion the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. And today it is still as iconic as it was when first constructed.
It was only fairly recently that the Golden Gate Bridge district recognized the contribution of long-ignored bridge engineer Charles Ellis, who is now considered the chief designer of the bridge but was fired by Strauss before completion of the construction.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on the Golden Gate bridge and bridge design and construction. For related educational resources, visit the Civil Engineering Education or Construction Engineering Education disciplinary communities.