The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most well-known and beloved bridges in the world. Breaking records for main span length and tower height when built, the bridge today remains among the country's largest suspension bridges. With a location in a beautiful, breathtaking setting and a design which compliments that setting, this bridge is appreciated as much for its impressive appearance as its historic significance. The bridge is one of the largest and most-well known examples of Art Deco architecture. The bridge features the main suspension spans, but its approach spans should not be overlooked. In addition to a series of deck truss spans supported by intricate steel bent supports, there is a beautiful trussed arch span over Fort Point.
From south to north, the bridge consists of the deck plate girder spans, Warren deck truss spans, a braced ribbed deck arch span, the three suspended spans, and finally, more Warren deck truss spans.
The suspended spans consist of main cables, 36.5 inch (93 cm) wide, that are structural wire strand cables. The main cables have grooved cable bands which hold the suspender cables each of which are composed of four separate structural wire ropes. The towers of the bridge are a unique design of portal tower in that the bracing above the roadway levels are hidden by a non-structural, decorative enclosure that hides the latticed bracing and instead provides architectural detailing consistent with the Art Deco theme of the bridge. Looking closely at the bridge, the absence of rivets on the enclosure is an indication that it is in fact a non-structural enclosure, rather than the actual bracing. The suspended spans have stiffening trusses that are riveted Warren deck trusses. The historic integrity of the suspended spans is good. The stiffening trusses appear to retain the majority of their original rivets and members. The towers also appear to retain their original materials and rivets.
The deck arch span, although overshadowed by the size and beauty of the main suspended spans, would on its own be a large and impressive bridge in its own right. Above the braced arch rib and the arch columns, the structure of the deck truss seen in both the deck truss spans and the stiffening truss of the suspended spans is also continued through the arch span, creating a consistent visual appearance. The historic integrity of the arch span is fair. Based on the locations of the substantial number of bolts on this originally all-riveted span, it appears a number of rivets and even entire members have been replaced. At the same time, many riveted connections and members remain intact.
The deck girder and deck truss spans have been severely altered and exhibit very poor historic integrity. The trussed bents for these spans were completely demolished and replaced. A half-hearted attempt was made to make the new bents look similar to the originals. The beams that compose the bents have cutouts that are supposed to make the beams look like they have riveted lattice bars. Given the fact that the Golden Gate Bridge is so large that most people don't look at it up close, this may be a minor issue. However if anyone does look close, these new bents look quite silly. If the method used by Chicago for replacing built-up beams on historic bridges was followed the result would have been better, if not perfect. Chicago fully replicates built-up beams it replaces on historic bridges, with the only exception being that bolts are substituted for rivets. Although the bolts do not look as nice as rivets, they do a much better job of replicating the original design and they present a more genuine visual appearance.
Some unexpected elements of the bridge retain excellent historic integrity. The original railings with their distinctive design remain intact on the bridge. The original lighting standards on the bridge, also with a unique design that includes a riveted base and an appearance that compliments the bridge's Art Deco design, remain intact. The inspection/maintenance travelers on the bridge also appear to be original since they have a riveted design. These travelers, which allow workers to inspect and repair the underside of the bridge as needed run on a rail system that extends along the trusses of the bridge.
Signage, websites, and other sources have claimed that the bridge has 1,200,000 rivets in it. This does not appear to be true, based on other sources including discussion with riveting expert Vern Mesler, as well as comparisons to other bridges of similar scale. "Spanning The Gate, The Golden Gate Bridge," A photo documentary with text by Stephen Cassady, dated 1979 stated on page 70 that "And when the final section of steel was riveted down in May, the tower was a 746-foot monument to iron work, 43,000,000 pounds of steel held together by 600,000 field-driven rivets..." It appears that the 1,200,000 rivets actually refers to the number of field-driven rivets between the two towers. However this factor does not even appear to take into account the countless rivets that would have been driven in the shop, since the parts of the tower were shipped to the site in sections that were already riveted together in the shop, and only needed to be field riveted to the adjacent section. Therefore, the total number of rivets in the towers should be much greater than 1,200,000. Moreover, the total number of rivets in the entire bridge, which would have to take into account the countless field and shop rivets in the stiffening truss, arch span, deck truss spans, girder spans, and bents would be far larger. The true number of rivets used in the bridge is currently unknown.
The large main plaque for this bridge mounted on the towers lists many of the contractors and engineers involved with the bridge, with some omissions. Historical construction photos clearly show that McClintic-Marshall Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was involved with the erection of the bridge, yet their name is not shown on the plaque. Instead, the Bethlehem Steel Company is shown. McClintic-Marshall Company at this time had been bought by and become a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel, however the signs on the construction site seem to indicate that the McClintic-Marshall name was still in use, which makes the plaque a little confusing to those who do not know the history. Additionally, the omission of a key design engineer is discussed in the next section.
Joseph Strauss was a Chicago bridge engineer who was the chief engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge, a project that has allowed his name to remain a familiar one to even casual bridge enthusiasts and San Francisco tourists. There is even a statue for him in a park that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge. However in reality, the Golden Gate Bridge was an odd project for Strauss to take on and he also doesn't even deserve much credit for it. As many bridge experts know, Strauss's real history is with his extensive work with movable bridges, particularly trunnion bascule bridges such as those found in abundance in Chicago. So extensive was his work that bascule bridges based off his ideas and designs are often called "Strauss Trunnion" bascule bridges. He is undoubtedly one of the most important individuals in the history of movable bridges. In contrast, the relative lack of experience that Strauss had with large fixed bridges seems to have revealed itself in a couple ways with the Golden Gate Bridge. First, before the existing design for the Golden Gate Bridge was crafted, Strauss proposed one of the most bizarre bridge designs ever imagined for Golden Gate, which was a combination of a suspension bridge and a cantilever truss bridge as seen at left. While this proposed bridge had a fascinating and unusual appearance, it was no where near as graceful and aesthetically pleasing, and it was not well received, and ultimately rejected. Also, it appears that Strauss really was not very good at doing the engineering design for the final Golden Gate Bridge as seen today. A little known but important fact is that not only was his bizarre design was rejected, Strauss also hired another engineer, Charles Alton Ellis, a professor from the University of Michigan, to do nearly all of the engineering design for the final accepted bridge proposal, and to sign off on all plan sheets for the bridge. At some point during the project, Strauss and Ellis got into an argument. Strauss, who was essentially sitting around doing nothing on the bridge, was annoyed at how long Ellis was taking to get the plans finalized. Ellis had the plans completed, but was insistent on spending time checking his calculations for safety's sake, and Strauss did not think that was important. Strauss apparently wasn't aware of the importance of safety in bridge construction however, and in the end he fired Ellis from the job. He then also did something very unethical. Not only did he then give Ellis no credit for the engineering work he did, he did something even worse and actually removed Ellis' name from all materials relating to the bridge. Also, Charles Ellis' name does not appear on the plaque for the bridge.
The irony of the Golden Gate Bridge is that while to the average person Joseph Strauss is known as the engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge, and people think of the Golden Gate Bridge as the crowning achievement of Strauss, the reality is that his real crowning achievement was his contributions to movable bridges and the Golden Gate Bridge is a actually a dark stain on the man's reputation. The behavior of Strauss on the Golden Gate Bridge suggests he was a stuck-up, vengeful person with a poor sense of ethical practice. Strauss fired Charles Ellis even though in reality Ellis was actually doing the most important part of engineering... making sure the bridge would be safe by checking his calculations. Contemporary evidence of the importance of checking calculations on the design for a bridge is the 2007 collapse of the I-35W Bridge. The I-35-W Bridge collapsed because the gusset plate size specified for the bridge was incorrect and did not compute correctly, but the error was never found.
Bibliography: Morris, Sammie (October 4, 2004). "A Guide to the Charles A. Ellis Papers". Purdue University Libraries Archives and Special Collections. West Lafayette Indiana: Purdue University. http://www.lib.purdue.edu/spcol/fa/pdf/ellis.pdf.
Finally Strauss came to A.P. Giannini, founder of Bank of America. Giannini also had a vision -- of serving fully California's growth. Giannini asked one question: "How long will this bridge last?" Struass replied, "Forever!" If cared for, it should have "life without end." -Text from interpretive plaque about Golden Gate Bridge.
Joseph Strauss, the engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, was like many bridge engineers and builders in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th Century. He did not design a bridge with an "expected service life" as is done today. He designed a bridge that if properly maintained and cared for should last indefinitely. Many bridges from the late 19th and and the first half of the 20th Century were designed in this manner. This fact may often seem unapparent because many bridges from this period have not been properly maintained and cared for and as a result they have deteriorated. However, the toll-supported Golden Gate Bridge has been carefully maintained and preserved since the day it was constructed. An ambitious project in the mid 1980s replaced the deck of the bridge with a new type of orthotropic deck that significantly reduced the dead load on the bridge. The most recent project has been to retrofit the bridge so it can withstand powerful earthquakes that could occur in the future. With this type of maintenance and rehabilitation, the bridge that Strauss designed to have "life without end" should indeed have just that.
In the television/movie series Star Trek, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most prominent landmarks from the present day that survives 300 years from now with its trademark "international orange" paint color, in a world where there are no longer cars and a need for bridges. This vision of an everlasting bridge need not be science fiction for the Golden Gate Bridge or any other important historic bridge. Engineers like Joseph Strauss gave us bridges that were designed to stand the test of time. If these bridges fail to do so, we have nobody to blame but our modern transportation funding and maintenance policies. Both in fact and fiction, the Golden Gate Bridge should set an example for historic bridge preservation elsewhere in the country.
The Golden Gate Bridge may be one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Despite this, among the hundreds of photos HistoricBridges.org provides it is hoped you will find something that you have not seen before. As part of the comprehensive photo-documentation of this bridge there are a number of photos that are likely less frequently taken by visitors to the bridge. Be sure to explore the Structure Details gallery to see interesting parts of the bridge that might be missed, such as the bridge's riveted inspection travelers. Because the bridge is not set up to allow people to stand in the middle of the bridge and take photos, a GoPro camera attached to a car was used to capture high resolution photos of the bridge from the approximate centerline of the bridge deck. These photos have their own "Crossing The Bridge" gallery.
In addition to photos taken by HistoricBridges.org, the photo galleries for this bridge include two Public Photograph Compilations (PPCs), which are composed from select photos from public repositories like Flickr, and organized and combined into the familiar HistoricBridges.org photo gallery format. The photos are legally offered by HistoricBridges.org under the terms of a Creative Commons license. As required under the license, HistoricBridges.org hereby states that none of the photographers endorse HistoricBridges.org and its ideas, nor are they affiliated with HistoricBridges.org in any way. Learn more about HistoricBridges.org's Public Photograph Compilations here.
Finally, the Online Archive of California has a wonderful collection of historical construction photos of the bridge. The web address for the repository is here. A PDF With Links To Online Historical Construction Photos is available here. If you visit this page you will find it is extremely difficult to navigate because no thumbnail photos are provided, and links to digitized photos are scattered within a list of all photos (not all photos were digitized). As a result, for viewing purposes only, HistoricBridges.org made a downloadable ZIP file containing all the digitized photos.
Information and Findings From Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District
Detailed Technical Facts
Total length of Bridge including approaches from abutment
to abutment: 1.7 miles = 8,981 ft = 2,737 m
Coordinates (Latitude, Longitude):
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