They initially wanted to paint it in black and yellow stripes.

golden gate bridge construction
Credit: © Corbis

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is such an icon—after all, it receives some 10 million visitors every single year—it's easy to forget that the City by the Bay at one time existed without it, or that anything about its design (and certainly not its "International Orange" hue!) came from anywhere else but (somehow, miraculously) from the water it straddles.

But actually the story of its creation is long and complicated. The idea of a bridge connecting Marin Couty to San Francisco (a passage that was largely traversed via ferry) was first seriously proposed in 1872, but construction wouldn't start for more than six decades. In the 1910s, the project was mired in legal struggles, finding enemies in famed photographer Ansel Adams and the Sierra Club, who fought to protect the lands along the bay. Another group that wasn't pleased? The local subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which operated the ferries. To make matters trickier, the city's official engineer estimated construction costs to total $100 million, which was way too much dough to spend. When ballsy civil engineer Joseph Strauss submitted a suspension-cantilever proposal he insisted would cost only $17M, proponents still had to assuage the fears of the Department of War, which worried the bridge would interfere with naval traffic.

At last, an incorporated entity was created to raise money in 1928—on the figurative eve of the worst and longest-lasting economic downturn the country has ever seen. The only reason construction actually began on January 5, 1933, was because the founder of Bank of America agreed to buy $30 million in bonds to help the economy.

So not only does today mark the anniversary of the beginning of construction of the world's most photographed bridge, it in many ways marks a major legal-political-economic victory in a time when the country needed one the most. A little over four years later, San Francisco become home to a piece of Art Deco architecture that would come to symbolize the city—its innovation, its resilience and, of course, its beauty—itself.

So let's raise our glasses to the many, many people that worked on the project. Oh, and special shout-out to our main man Irving Morrow, the small-time residential architect that convinced everybody to paint the thing orange.