On May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge, a masterpiece of design and engineering, opened to the public and more than 200,000 people walked the nearly mile long span across the San Francisco Bay.
This iconic landmark, designed by Joseph Baermann Strauss, combined suspension and cantilever construction to unite the City of San Francisco with the headlands of Marin County.
Strauss had previously designed the cantilever Lewis and Clark Bridge – uniting the states of Washington and Oregon across the Columbia River.
The design of Strauss’ 4,300 ft. Golden Gate Bridge was an engineering marvel and defied many doubters who claimed the project would become “the bridge that couldn’t be built”.
Building a bridge spanning such a great distance and positioned at a daunting height above swirling water with high winds, Strauss and his team, including engineer Charles Alton Ellis, overcame countless obstacles in addition to ensuring the safety of workers. Fortuitously, Strauss insisted that a safety net be hung under the bridge and that saved the lives of 19 workers who fell off the bridge during construction.
Joseph B. Strauss was a multi-talented man. Aside from his lifetime as a famed engineer, he was a noted poet. His most famous poem, “The Redwoods” was also published as a song. Ironically, Strauss’ poetic lyrics on the beauty of nature and the majesty of the giant redwoods seems at odds with his life’s work of constructing bridges of iron and steel. As Strauss put it: “Building a bridge is a war with the forces of Nature.”
Strauss lived to see his masterpiece bridge, the Golden Gate, completed but died just one year later on May 16, 1938 in Los Angeles at the age of 68.
For more than 80 years, the Golden Gate has led millions of travelers from the City by the Bay northward toward the magnificent redwood groves of Northern California. The next time you cross the vermillion colored Art Deco bridge, remember these first few lines from Strauss’ 1931 poem:
“Here, sown by the Creator's hand.
In serried ranks, the Redwoods stand:
No other clime is honored so,
No other lands their glory know.
The greatest of Earth's living forms,
Tall conquerors that laugh at storms;
Their challenge still unanswered rings,
Through fifty centuries of kings.”