San Francisco Bay
Library of Congress

An illustration of 19th century San Francisco Bay
1849: 1849-1930

San Francisco's population swells after a carpenter named John Marshall discovers gold in northern California. Originally a village, Yerba Buena, with 400 inhabitants, it becomes a city of 35,000 people.


April 9, 1865

The Civil War ends when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant. Masses of soldiers demobilize, many of whom will soon move west.


August 18, 1869

Joshua Norton, a bankrupted Gold Rush merchant who has gone mad, declares himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States, and begins issuing decrees. San Franciscans tolerate and even coddle him. He is the first to call publicly for the construction of bridges across the San Francisco Bay.


January 1870

Joseph Baermann Strauss, the future chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, is born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Amadeo Peter Giannini, who will one day head the Bank of America and finance the Golden Gate Bridge, is born in San Jose, California.


Charles Crocker
California State Library

Charles Crocker
1872

Three years after completing the transcontinental railroad connecting California to the East coast, entrepreneur Charles Crocker presents plans and cost estimates for a bridge spanning the Golden Gate, where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean.

Future bridge designer and theorist Leon Moisseiff is born in Latvia. He will emigrate to New York at age 19.


1876

The engineer who will one day calculate forces and ensure the Golden Gate Bridge is structurally sound, Charles Ellis, is born in Parkman, Maine.


April 18, 1906

San Francisco is devastated by a destructive earthquake: over 28,000 buildings are destroyed and two-thirds of the city's population -- about a quarter-million people -- become homeless.


November 25, 1914

Future baseball great Joe DiMaggio is born to Sicilian immigrant parents in the Bay Area. His father, Giuseppe, is a bay fisherman, and the family soon relocates to the city's hub of Italian immigrant life, North Beach.


1915

The Panama Pacific International Exposition opens in San Francisco, celebrating (a year late) the completion of the Panama Canal. Shipping times between the east and west coasts of the United States are cut significantly.


1916

More than four decades after Crocker's call for a bridge, James H. Wilkins, a structural engineer and a newspaper editor for the San Francisco Call Bulletin, proposes the first serious design for spanning the Golden Gate. He campaigns for a bridge, catching the attention of San Francisco City Engineer Michael M. O'Shaughnessy. O'Shaughnessy consults engineers about feasibility and cost. The majority speculate that a bridge will cost over $100 million -- yet Joseph Strauss, who has designed nearly 400 spans, claims it can be built for only $25 to $30 million.


April 17, 1917

President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to formally declare war. World War I, the bloodiest conflict yet known, will end a year and a half later, on November 11, 1918.


September 24, 1918

The deadliest strain of influenza America has ever known comes to San Francisco. Residents don surgical masks and endure the outbreak, which infects over 23,000 citizens -- including young Ansel Adams -- and kills 3500.


November 1918

To act on the growing public interest in the bridge project awakened by Wilkins' columns, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors asks Congress to authorize a federal survey of the Golden Gate channel.


August 1919

City officials ask city engineer O'Shaughnessy to explore the possibility of building a bridge that crosses the Golden Gate.


January 1920

At the city engineer's request, the U.S.S. Natoma sounds the Golden Gate channel.


May 1920

O'Shaughnessy receives the Natoma's survey data. He sends it to three nationally-known engineers: Joseph Strauss in Chicago; Francis C. McMath, president of the Canadian Bridge and Iron Company in Detroit; and Gustav Lindenthal, the man who engineered the 1,000-foot Hell Gate Arch over New York's East River in 1916.


June 28, 1921

O'Shaughnessy considers the engineers' proposals. Lindenthal has estimated a minimum cost of $56 million -- disqualifying himself. McMath never officially responds. Joseph Strauss, unaware that two other engineers have been contacted as well, submits preliminary sketches to O'Shaugnessy with a cost estimate of $27 million.


1922

O'Shaughnessy, Strauss and Edward Rainey, a mayoral aide, propose the creation of a special political entity for the Golden Gate Bridge project. They believe a special district is necessary to manage financing, design and construction of the bridge, and in order for all counties that may be affected to have a voice in the proceedings.

Strauss adds Charles Ellis, professor of structural and bridge engineering at the University of Illinois, to his staff. Ellis's job is to draw up the new plans.


Michael M. O'Shaughnessy
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

Michael M. O'Shaughnessy
December 7, 1922

Almost a year and a half after receiving Strauss's blueprints, O'Shaughnessy makes his calculations public.


January 13, 1923

Franklin Pierce Doyle, a banker in Sonoma County, calls a meeting of representatives from twenty-one counties. The group creates the "Association of Bridging the Gate." Their first task is to ask the state legislature for permission to create a legal district.


May 25, 1923

The California legislature passes the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act of California. The association is empowered to create a district and assume powers of taxation, eminent domain, and control over bridge and roadway construction and maintenance.


Spring 1924

As the owner of the land on both sides of the Golden Gate, the federal War Department is the only entity that can authorize construction. The department also has jurisdiction over all harbor construction that might affect shipping traffic or military logistics. San Francisco and Marin counties make a joint application for a permit to build the bridge.


May 16, 1924

War Department officials meet to discuss two issues: whether the bridge will hinder navigation, and whether adequate financing is available.


Secretary of War John Weeks
Courtesy of the United States Army Center for Military History

Secretary of War John Weeks
December 24, 1924

In an atmosphere of overwhelming support for the bridge project, Secretary of War John W. Weeks issues a temporary permit.


December 4, 1928

The association of counties forms the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District to finance, design, and construct the bridge. The District consists of San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte and parts of Mendocino and Napa counties.


August 15, 1929

Joseph B. Strauss is chosen as the bridge's chief engineer. Leon S. Moisseiff, O. H. Amman and Charles Derleth, Jr. are named consulting engineers.


Late summer, 1929

Swayed by Moisseiff and Ellis' calculations -- and projected savings in cost and construction time -- Strauss abandons his initial plan to build a cantilever-suspension bridge and decides on an all-suspension bridge.


Engineers of the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco Public Library

Engineers of the Golden Gate Bridge
October 29, 1929

The stock market crashes. Banks fail one after another, people are forced to close their businesses, and the Great Depression begins, as more than 15 million Americans -- a quarter of the work force -- become unemployed.


February 1930

Strauss submits a formal report to the bridge's directors, accounting for changes including the conversion to an all-suspension bridge.


March 1, 1930

After overseeing test boring in San Francisco, Charles Ellis returns to Chicago to start the preliminary design and estimate. Working twelve to fourteen hours a day, and consulting via telegram with Moisseiff in New York, Ellis personally computes dozens of factors, and completes the overall design in four months. At a meeting in June, Ellis' design will be reviewed by the three consultants.


Summer 1930

Strauss hires a local architect, Irving Morrow, to design an architectural treatment for the bridge. Morrow will later be recognized for his aesthetic contributions: the Golden Gate Bridge's distinctive Art Deco lines, burnt red-orange hue, and the structure's dramatic lighting.


August 11, 1930

The War Department issues a final permit for the construction of a 4,200-foot main span, with a vertical clearance of 220 feet at midspan and a 210-foot clearance at the sidespans.


August 27, 1930

Joseph Strauss submits his final plan to the District's board of directors, two months behind schedule. At 285 pages, it is intended to be comprehensive.


November 1930

As the country endures the Great Depression, the bridge's board proposes that voters underwrite the major construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Irving Morrow
Eleanor Morrow Mead

Irving Morrow
November 4, 1930

Voters from the six counties of the District agree to a $35 million bond issue, using their homes, farms and business properties as collateral, in order to support the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The vote is 145,657 in favor and 46,954 against.

Strauss directs Ellis to begin the thousands of detail calculations involving suspension ropes, decks, floor beams, highway track, cables, towers, and more. Ellis writes the specifications for all ten bridge construction contracts, covering everything from cable wire to suspender ropes to concrete for the anchorages.


October 1931: 1931-1994

Strauss badgers Ellis to finish his work. Ellis responds by asking for Strauss' cooperation and patience in arriving at reliable mathematical expressions for the safe design of the bridge.


November 1931

Strauss' impatience with Ellis comes to a head. Strauss instructs Ellis to go on vacation immediately.


December 5, 1931

Ellis leaves the Strauss Engineering Corporation offices for what will turn out to be the last time. Three days before his scheduled return, Ellis receives a letter from Strauss telling him not to return. Ellis will be replaced by Clifford Paine, the firm's managing engineer. All mention of Ellis is removed from bridge materials.


November 1932

The District awards contracts totaling $23,843,905 for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Construction begins
San Francisco Public Library

Construction begins
January 5, 1933

Construction begins. Workers excavate three and a quarter million cubic feet of dirt for the bridge's huge anchorages.


February 1933

Workers complete the two anchorages. These colossal blocks of steel-reinforced concrete secure the main cables at each end of the bridge.


February 14, 1933

Russell B. Cone and his family arrive in San Francisco. Recruited by Strauss, Cone is appointed resident engineer. Working under Strauss and Paine, he will oversee the day-to-day construction of the bridge.


June 1933

Workers complete the north pier, the foundation for the north tower, on the Marin shore. The pier extends 44 feet above the waterline.


May 1934

Workers complete the north tower.


January 1935

After agonizing difficulties trying to build in the middle of a turbulent ocean channel, workers -- including a team of underwater divers -- complete the south pier.


June 1935

The south tower is finished.


A worker walks along the bridge's catwalk
San Francisco Public Library

A worker walks along the bridge's catwalk
August 1935

Workers install a dizzying catwalk high above the water. Since the bridge's cables will be assembled in the air, the catwalk hangs three feet below the position of each cable.


Safety nets
San Francisco Public Library

Safety nets
February 17, 1936

Eleven workers lose their lives when a platform holding 13 men falls off the bridge and through the safety net. Two workers, Slim Lambert and Oscar Osberg, somehow survive the fall and the plunge into icy water. Lambert suffers a broken shoulder, a broken collar bone, broken ribs, a broken neck, a broken back and two horribly twisted ankles. Osberg is pulled alive from the water with a fractured hip, a broken leg, and massive internal injuries.


March 1936

Workers finish spinning the suspension cables ahead of schedule, at a rate four times faster than expected.


May 20, 1936

The cable compression is finished.



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From the Empire State Buiding to the carvings on Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Space Needle, the U.S. has dozens of impressive, important, and iconic structures. Which ones have you been to? Which has had the biggest impact?