Golden Gate Bridge: Form and Function

San Francisco with two bridges (Western section of Bay Bridge in the left background), Coit Tower (in background to the left of north tower), and Fort Mason (on the San Francisco waterfront in the background behind the north tower) from Marin.
The Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco in the background as seen from Marin. (Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1933, construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Here are some things you may not have known about the bridge.

Ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County started in the 1820s. The Golden Gate Ferry Company, which originated in 1867 went on to become the largest ferry system in the world in the 1920s. The crossing took about 20 minutes and cost one dollar per vehicle.

A bridge soon became a necessity, as the city was all but cut off from its surrounding communities. Many experts doubted a bridge could be built across Golden Gate, which is more than a mile wide, with strong currents and water more than 370 feet deep.

In 1916, the San Francisco city engineer estimated a bridge would cost $100 million at the time, the equivalent of $2.17 billion today. He put out a call to other engineers, asking if it could be done for less.

One engineer who responded, Joseph Strauss, designed a bridge with two cantilever sections and a central suspension portion, which could be built for $17 million. Authorities agreed to proceed, but forced Strauss to change his design to a suspension bridge. The construction budget was eventually set at $35 million.

This was a problem for Strauss because he had little experience designing suspension bridges. The final design was inspired by Leon Moisseiff, who designed the Manhattan Bridge in New York. It was left to senior engineer Charles Alton Ellis, to do the bulk of the design work. During his work, he consulted extensively with Moisseiff. Ellis also designed the steel arch bridge leading to the southern anchorage at Golden Gate. In 1931, after the majority of he design work was done, Strauss fired Ellis and claimed sole responsibility for the design.

Construction began on January 5, 1933, and was completed on April 19, 1937. Eleven workers were killed during construction; 10 of them died in one incident in February 1937 when the scaffolding on which they were working fell off the bridge and through a safety net. The safety net saved the lives of 19 other workers during construction. The bridge was completed ahead of schedule and $1.3 million under budget.

The iconic international orange color was originally intended only as a primer coat. Later it was determined that the color helped make the bridge more visible to ships and it also complements the bridge’s surroundings.

Until the 1964 construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension span in the world. It was the highest suspension bridge above water until the 1998 construction of bridges in Japan and Denmark.

In 2007, the Golden Gate Bridge District decided to give deserved credit for the bridge’s design to Charles Alton Ellis.

About 110,000 vehicles travel across the bridge every day.

Our question, what color was the bridge originally intended to be painted?

Today is the 12th day of Christmas, so someone out there will be getting 12 drummers drumming. It’s National Bird Day in the United States. It’s also national Whipped Cream Day. It’s the birthday of Superman actor George Reeves, actor Robert Duvall and actress Diane Keaton.

20 years ago, the top song in the U.S. was “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men; the No. 1 movie was “Toy Story” and “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.



Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or our website.

Also, if you’re enjoying the show, please consider supporting it through

Please rate the show on iTunes by clicking here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.