Secrets of the Golden Gate Bridge
Credit: Jun Sieta/Flickr (cc by 2.0)

Respected by artists and engineers alike, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered by some to be the world’s largest sculpture. Viewed from afar, the natural curve of its roadway, along with its delicate, heaven-pitched crimson towers veer into the realm of art.

History of the Golden Gate Bridge

When it opened in 1937 it was the world’s longest-spanning suspension bridge (4,200 feet). More importantly, the Golden Gate Bridge provided a much-needed boost to national morale.

“This bridge came during the Great Depression,” notes Linda Cahill, a San Francisco-based tour guide with SFCityGuides, “America was down on its knees. We didn’t think we could do anything, [let alone] build a bridge on an oceanfront. But in two and a half years, we did it. We even built it near an earthquake fault line, and it still stood up.”

Secrets of the Golden Gate Bridge
Credit: Alan Copson/Getty Images

Golden Gate Bridge Facts

The ‘Golden Gate’ strait, where the Pacific Ocean meets San Francisco Bay (and after which the bridge is named), water is forced through a narrow opening of just a mile. This creates absurdly powerful tides, which swell every six hours, and have been known to capsize sailboats. Meanwhile, 30-knot winds (caused by rising hot air from the surrounding valleys) and unruly currents only add to the volatile conditions. When a bridge was first proposed for this site, engineering authorities dismissed it as outrageous and impractical.

An architect named Irving Morrow, who had previously designed single-family houses around San Francisco, was single-handedly responsible for the bridge’s trademark feature: its bright red-orange towers. Each morning, Morrow rode the ferry from the East Bay into San Francisco, and he would watch the rising sun cast fantastic, otherworldly shadows across the Golden Gate. This mystical, prism-like light play helped inspire the shape of the towers, which resemble successive picture frames that appear to get smaller and smaller as you drive through them.

The Golden Gate Bridge is famous today for its sweeping, fluent style, but the finished product we see today differs slightly from the original design. Leon Moisseiff, the project’s consulting engineer, had at first proposed a radical plan, which would slim out the road and raise the walkways. Chief engineer Charles Alton Ellis, in turn, vetoed this—and good thing he did.

Three years later, Moisseiff got to test out his idea when he won the commission to design the ill-fated Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which ruptured and collapsed during a windstorm four months after opening.