Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Golden Gate Bridge

For six years Joseph Strauss, a bridge builder from Chicago, had been visiting San Francisco to supervise work on a small drawbridge, one of four hundred he had built around the world. But Strauss's ambitions far surpassed any work his firm had ever attempted before...
This programme documents the construction of what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world, built hundreds of feet above the dangerously churning waters of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It would be known as the Golden Gate.
The 1920 census delivered San Franciscans a shock: Los Angeles had surpassed San Francisco as California's largest city. While Los Angeles had plenty of land, San Francisco was bottled up at the tip of a peninsula. Economic survival depended on expansion.
The idea of a bridge linking the city with its neighboring counties was appealing, but the mile-wide gap between San Francisco and Marin presented huge challenges.
At the mouth of the Gate, the oncoming force of the Pacific Ocean creates turbulent waves and ripping currents. The location is plagued by gale-force winds and dense fogs. Strauss set his sights on bridging a spot that other engineers had deemed impossible.
When he delivered his plans for the bridge, resistance emerged from every quarter. Environmentalists protested that the bridge would mar the Golden Gate's pleasing vista. Shipping companies claimed the bridge would impede navigation in the bay. Ferry companies were bent on protecting their monopoly on bay-crossings. The war department feared the bridge would become a target in wartime. But no amount of opposition would deter Strauss.
In 1925, he moved to San Francisco to drum up support. He set out on a road trip, speaking at public meetings in small towns in the northern counties, proudly presenting his own bridge design.
"Most people, myself included, think that it was very ugly, to the point of hideous," says structural engineer Mark Ketchum. Still, Marin County signed on, with Sonoma and Napa soon following. In all, six counties joined the Bridge District. Work began in January 1933.
Hundreds of men were hired to do the back-breaking work of removing three-and-a-quarter million cubic feet of dirt to make room for the anchorages that would hold the bridge's main cables in place. Throughout construction, the workers would be exposed to the severe weather and dangerous conditions of working high above the Golden Gate. "They were farm boys and clerks and taxicab drivers who became high steel men... teetering along on a girder up there," says historian Richard Dillon.
The 6,450-foot span would be the longest cable-spinning distance attempted to date. To spin the main suspension cables, Strauss hired Roebling & Sons, who shipped 80,000 miles of wire from New Jersey. On May 20, 1936, the last cable wire was laid, two months ahead of schedule.
"The cable system is really the lifeline of a suspension bridge," says Ketchum. "That big cable, that looks so solid when we see it today, was spun in place from individual wires that are each about the size of a pencil."


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