There are two bridges at Tacoma Narrows today. One is this historic 1950 suspension bridge and the other is a non-historic modern suspension bridge built in 2007, which formed a one-way couplet with the historic bridge serving westbound traffic.
Both of the Tacoma Narrows Bridges are ironically well-known nationwide not so much because of their own merits, but moreso because of the infamous bridge that the 1950 bridge replaced: the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge (nicknamed Galloping Gertie) which opened July 1, 1940 and collapsed a few months later on November 7th due to insufficient stiffening that caused moderate 40mph winds to tear the bridge apart.
The 1940 bridge represented an interesting period in the history of suspension bridge design. Engineers during this period had theorized that suspension bridges did not need the heavy stiffening that had traditionally been used. Therefore, the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge (and some other bridges elsewhere in the country during this time) were constructed with very shallow stiffening girders. This theory was quickly found to be a bad one, as winds made these bridges including the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge extremely susceptible to oscillations caused by high winds. Some bridges like the 1939 Deer Isle Bridge had problems, but were able to be corrected through alterations. The 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge was not so lucky. Its stiffening was so shallow that even light winds caused the deck to sway and oscillate which gave it the nickname Galloping Gertie. Before it could be strengthened, the bridge collapsed in a 40mph wind only a few months after it opened. Its collapse, which was captured on video, is famous among bridge historians and engineers who have studied the collapse of the bridge to learn how wind affects suspension bridges.
After the collapse, the replacement 1950 bridge was designed with a heavier and more traditional heavy Warren deck truss stiffening. The 1950 bridge has provided safe and reliable service as a result. Noted engineer Charles E. Andrew was involved in the design of the 1950 bridge.
Note: Historical photos on this page which reference the Tacoma Public Library are from the library's digital archive, and specifically the "Richards Studio Collection Series: TPL." Its an impressive collection and although quite a few photos appear on this page, the actual collection is massive and extensively documents the 1940 and 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridges. Type "Tacoma Narrows Bridge" into their search to view the full collection.
The above photos show the construction of the 1950 bridge, the first one showing the bridge with only the towers erected and the second one showing the deck construction.
The above photos show the 1950 bridge after it was completed.
The above photo shows the 1940 bridge being built. In this photo, cable spinning is in progress.
In the above photo, spools of cable used to build the bridge are visible in the foreground to the left.
The above construction photos show the 1940 bridge with just the towers and main cables in place.
The above photos show some of the workers who erected the bridge.
The above photo shows the bridge in its final moments before collapse. The twisting of the deck is so severe its amazing it was still in one piece at this point... and in fact a few moments later it was no longer in one piece!
The above photo shows an overall view of the bridge after it collapsed.
The above photos show the bridge after it collapsed. These photos show the pieces of deck and girder hanging from the center span.
The above photo is from the top of the tower looking down on the collapsed center span.
The above photos show the bridge after it collapsed. These photos show one of the end suspended spans, which although in one piece, is severely sagging.
The above photo is particularly interesting. It is after the collapse, and taken from the water level looking up at the tower, and from this angle it can be seen the significant degree to which the collapse caused the tower to bend to the right in the photo.
The above photo after collapse shows a section of the bridge which did not collapse but was severely damaged.
The above photos after collapse show the severe fraying of the main cable near the anchorage.
The above photo shows the bridge after collapsed. The deck and girder has been removed at this point. What appears to be loose cables tangled up all over the main cables are may be a combination of demolition work and damage caused by the collapse.
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