Bridging the Gate

Bridging the Gate

By Clay Hamilton

The road sections of the Golden Gate bridge begin to take shape, October 1936. Photo by Charles M. Hill. From Marin County Free Library
A Bronco remembers 75 years of an icon.

Bill Adams '37. 1937 Redwood

The thick suspension cables of the Golden Gate bridge were already draped across the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the road sections were about to be connected mid-span when Bill Adams '37 got an opportunity to tour the construction site.

It was October 1936 and SCU School of Engineering dean George L. Sullivan, who served as a personnel consultant on the bridge, arranged the trip for the Engineering Society. The “blue shirts,” as the student society was called, examined the concrete fenders around the base of the towers as well as the equipment used to make the giant suspension cables. Adams remembers being introduced by Sullivan to chief bridge engineer Joseph Strauss. After explaining the cable construction process to the students, Strauss gave each of them a strand of the wire being used.

It was an exciting time to be an engineer, recalls Adams. Hoover Dam had been dedicated the previous year and, in San Francisco, construction was wrapping up on both the Bay Bridge and one of the largest steam power plants in the world.

Program for the 1937 bridge opening.

The Golden Gate bridge presented a variety of design challenges: it had to span a 6,700 foot strait subject to strong tides and winds, it had to be high enough not to interfere with shipping traffic, and it needed to be able to withstand strong earthquakes. In addition, there were daunting construction logistics. Sullivan found these problems to “very much appeal to the imagination” and discussed them in a 1934 article. Adams remembers how impressive it was to see the whole project being carried forward to completion.

At the time, few realized how iconic the bridge would become. Since it's dedication in May 1937, it has come to be recognized as a landmark for both the city of San Francisco as well as the United States. On May 27, 2012, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, along with the city of San Francisco, staged a massive celebration marking the 75th anniversary of its own engineering marvel. As California historian Kevin Starr wrote, "The Golden Gate Bridge ... offers enduring proof that human beings can alter the planet with reverence."

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