When James Marshall struck gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, it began a movement of people to the Golden State that continued for decades. More than 300,000 prospectors came to seek their fortune and build new lives on the west coast, and in short order, propelled a once small settlement like San Francisco into a booming city.
Business in the Bay Area grew and commerce between San Francisco and what is now Marin County was served solely by a ferry service across a section of San Francisco Bay. With the arrival of the automobile on a mass scale in the 1920s, the demand grew to connect San Francisco and Marin County by a bridge to keep up with the growth. However, many experts claimed that building a bridge would be impossible due to the strong, swirling tides and currents, powerful winds, and thick fog that were inherent across the 6,700-foot strait.
Nonetheless, work began on January 5, 1933, under the guidance of a noted American engineer who revolutionized the design of bascule bridges, more commonly referred to as draw bridges. For this project, he had to overcome many challenges from acquiring funding and support, to the physical obstacles presented by the location. It would have to span one of the greatest distances ever by a bridge, reach heights never before seen, and be strong enough to withstand the forces of the ocean.
During its construction, an earthquake struck the area while men were working on the south tower. According to PBS’ American Experience, one worker recalled, “the tower swayed 16 feet each way. There were 12 or 13 guys on top with no way to get down… The whole thing would sway toward the ocean, guys would say, ‘here we go!’ Then it would sway back toward the bay.” Deeply concerned with the safety of his workers, the chief engineer installed a net beneath the bridge during construction, which ended up saving 19 lives.
At its completion in 1937, the Golden Gate was the longest main suspension bridge span in the world. More than 200,000 people crossed the bridge that day by foot, auto, and even by roller skates.
Today, this incredible bridge draws millions of visitors and commuters annually. The chief engineer was Joseph B. Strauss, and his Golden Gate legacy remains one of the most recognizable icons in the United States. He passed away in Los Angeles just a year after the Golden Gate’s completion. He is interred in the Great Mausoleum in Glendale alongside his wife, Annette. On the front of his crypt is a bronze plaque with the Golden Gate Bridge, while hers has a matching bronze plaque of the San Francisco Bay without the bridge.