Without even mentioning the country or city, you likely already know where these architectural landmarks are located. In terms of the American West Coast, there is perhaps no more iconic identifying structure than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Completed in the midst of the Great Depression in 1937, the bridge remains a marvel of design, engineering, and construction. Though it’s been featured prominently in numerous pop culture outlets, from the classic Hitchcock film Vertigo to the opening credits of the TV show Full House to the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, unless you’re one of the pedestrians, bicyclists, or in one of the 41,000,000+ vehicles that cross the bridge annually (or even if you are), there’s probably a lot of things about the bridge that you don’t know. So, let’s have a closer look at this special bridge.
Before getting into the history and the structure itself, let’s break down the name. At its most common, we’re dealing with a bridge, which is defined as “a structure that provides the ability to pass over a ravine or body of water” and comes to us from the Old English brycge, originating from Proto-Germanic brugjo. The adjective golden, meaning, in this case, advantageous or desirable, was created by adding the -en suffix to the noun gold, which is derived from the Proto-Germanic –ina and gulthan; while gate, understood broadly as an opening or passage, comes from the Proto-Germanic gatan.
Unsurprisingly, the usage of the separate terms are slightly older than the bridge. The first mention of the term bridge can be found in the works of the Anglo-Saxon abbot Ælfric of Eynsham, who, writing in order to help his students learn Latin, recordes circa 1000 in Grammar: “Hic pons, þeos brycg (this bridge).” Although golden and gate had previously been used individually – in these senses, around 1398 and by at least 1175, respectively – the first recorded use of them together, referring to a golden gate comes from a religious history book written in 1590 by the pseudonymous I.L. entitled (partially), A True and Perfecte Description of a Straunge Monstar, which states that: “Then Pope that pardons others now..Shall pardon seeke, but none shall finde, nor be admitted in The golden gates of Sion sweet.”
As for how the international orange (#F04A00) painted bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County got its name, that is a product of the writings of soldier, explorer, and politician John Charles Frémont. Then a captain in the U.S. Army, Frémont, looking at the channel separating the bay from the Pacific Ocean in 1846 is reported to have said: “it is a golden gate to trade with the Orient.” Formally, however, in Frémont’s Geographical Memoir, which was submitted to the U.S. Senate in 1848, he writes: “to this Gate I gave the name of “Chrysopylae” or “Golden Gate” for the same reasons that the harbour of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.” The same-year publication of Frémont’s work along with Charles Preuss’ map of Western America from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, which also used the term Golden Gate, helped to lead the name’s adoption for the strait.
For a project that only took a little over 4 years to build, the concept of a bridge had been dreamed of for years, especially as San Francisco’s growth was being stunted due to the lack of a permanent link with the surrounding communities; however, it was the real-world application that proved to be a nightmare. The channel itself was known for dense fog, frequent strong winds, swirling tired and currents, and a depth of 372 feet (113m). Added to this, a strong lobby from the lucrative ferry boat operators (who stood to lose their businesses) and an estimated cost by San Francisco’s City Engineer, Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy, of approximately USD 100 million (the equivalent of USD 2.3 billion today) almost killed the idea; however, replying to a plea for more cost effective models, a poet and engineer from Cincinnati, Ohio, Joseph Strauss, unaccustomed to such a massive project, submitted an idea that included a huge cantilever on each side of the strait, connected by a central suspension segment – all for a cost of USD 17 million (USD 391 million today).
Though the name had been discussed by O’Shaughnessy and Strauss as early as 1917, our bridge’s name was made official through California’s passing of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act in 1923.
What fun would this be without some interesting and weird facts about the Golden Gate Bridge:
- The total length of the bridge from abutment to abutment is 8,981 ft. (2,737 m), and, until 1964, it had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world (4,200 ft./1,300 m).
- Each of the 2 main cables consist of 27,572 strands of wire. Combined, the total length of this wire is estimated to be 80,000 miles (130,000 km).
- Each of the 2 towers on bridge contain roughly 600,000 rivets.
- Second to the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge is the next most used suicide site/bridge in the world. From 1937 to 2012, an estimated 1,600 people have used it.
- The final suspension design used for the bridge is the product of Leon Moisseiff, who also engineered the Manhattan Bridge in New York City and the ill-fated Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the State of Washington, which collapsed in a windstorm due to aeroelastic flutter after less than a year.
On September 12, EVS Translations’ CEO Edward Vick will have the opportunity to admire the Golden Gate bridge in person while attending the 2019 SlatorCon San Francisco.