Golden Gate Bridge – The back story
Golden Gate Bridge - The Allianz connection
Mega-projects need courage, dependability and innovation in insurance underwriting. On May 27 2012, one of the world's most famous bridges – the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco – celebrated its 75 anniversary.
Back in 1930, the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was budgeted at $35 million, at the time a staggering amount of money. Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was insured by a local San Francisco company that still exists today – Fireman's Fund, a company of Allianz. Having the construction bond insured by Fireman's Fund helped to create confidence in the project.
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Why the Golden Gate Bridge was built
In the early 20th century, San Francisco was the largest American city still served primarily by ferry boats. Because it did not have a permanent link with communities around the San Francisco bay, the city's growth rate was below the national average.
Origins of the bridge
Although the idea of a bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait was not new, the proposal that eventually took hold was made in a 1916 San Francisco newspaper article. San Francisco's City Engineer estimated the cost at $100 million, impractical for the time and fielded the question to bridge engineers of whether it could be built for less.
One engineer who responded to the challenge was Joseph Strauss. He was an ambitious but dreamy engineer and poet who had designed a 55-mile long railroad bridge across the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia for his graduate thesis. Strauss had completed some 400 drawbridges—most of which were inland—and nothing on the scale of the new project. His initial drawings were for a massive cantilever on each side of the strait, connected by a central suspension segment, which Strauss promised could be built for $17 million.
Initial opposition to the Golden Gate Bridge
Many experts said that a bridge couldn’t be built across the 6,700 ft Golden Gate strait and that ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation. The US Navy feared that a ship collision or sabotage to the bridge could block the entrance to one of its main harbours. The Southern Pacific Railroad, one of the most powerful business interests in California, opposed the bridge as competition to its ferry fleet and filed a lawsuit against the project, leading to a mass boycott of the ferry service.
Opponents of the bridge felt that the timing of the bond election was considered economically reckless, as it would create bonded indebtedness during the Great Depression.
Golden Gate Bridge gets support
Proponents saw the construction as economic relief from the Depression. The fledgling automobile industry was a strong supporter, seeing the development of roads and bridges as linked to an increase in the demand for cars.
On November 4, 1930, voters within the recently designated Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District went to the polls and put up their homes, farms and business properties as collateral to support a 35 million US-dollars bond issue to finance the bridge. Of the voters, 145,697 voted for construction; just 47,005 opposed the idea.
10 interesting facts about the Golden Gate Bridge
- It took only four years to build
Construction commenced on January 5, 1933 and the Bridge was open to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937.
- Two major innovations in construction
Both concern the safety of the construction workers: firstly the wearing of hard hats (based on the design of first world war steel helmets) and secondly the use of a safety net underneath the whole length of the bridge to catch any workers who might fall – this was called the “half-way-to-hell-club” and saved the lives of 19 men. Sadly, 17 men did lose their lives in the construction of the bridge.
- To build it today would cost $1.2 billion dollars
The total price depends on a many factors, but it is estimated that what cost $34 million in 1937 would cost $1.2 billion – about twice the cost of the 2012 London Olympic Stadium.
- A movie star
The Golden Gate Bridge has appeared in over 20 Hollywood films, from the classic 1941 “The Maltese Falcon”, to “It Came From Beneath the Sea” (1955 sci-fi classic where a giant octopus destroys the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco), “The Love Bug”, several Star Trek films, “Superman” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”.
- The Chief Engineer wrote a poem to celebrate the completion
On completion of the Golden Gate Bridge construction in May 1937, Chief Engineer Joseph B. Strauss wrote a poem called "The Mighty Task is Done."
- Pedestrians first!
The bridge's first day was solely for pedestrians – some 200,000 came to celebrate the bridge’s completion on Thursday, May 27, 1937. Thousands of people competed to be the first to cross the bridge in some unique manner – pedestrians walked backwards, balanced on lines, walked dogs and cats, and tap-danced across, all setting first-time records. Day two saw the bridge open to vehicles and that night the city celebrated with an enormous display of fireworks.
- An alternative colour scheme
The US Navy wanted the Golden Gate Bridge to be painted in black and yellow stripes to maximise visibility for shipping. However, the bridge architect Irving Morrow picked the iconic orange colour because it blends well with the bridge's natural setting, consistent with the warm colours of the hills in the area whilst also being distinct from the cool colours of the sky and ocean. The orange colour is called "International Orange" – this was the name given to the colour by the aviation industry, who used it to ensure structures were easy for pilots to see.
- Strong enough to withstand an earthquake
In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area with a force measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. The Golden Gate Bridge withstood, undamaged, the most devastating quake to strike the Bay Area since 1906.
- A fog magnet
"Advection fog" forms when humid air from the Pacific Ocean swoops over the chilly California current flowing parallel to the coast. The fog hugs the ground and then the warm, moist air condenses as it moves across the bay or land. This is common near any coastline. The bridge has an influence in directing the fog as it pushes up and pours down around the warmer air coming from the bridge road surface.
- Used by nearly 2 billion cars
As of April 2011, 1,929,896,448 vehicles have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge (includes northbound and southbound) since opening in 1937 – about 112,000 every day.