Throwback Thursday: Golden Gate Bridge started construction 90 years ago today

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge District photo

It was 90 years ago on Jan. 5, 1933 backed by a $35-million bond issue that construction of the Golden Gate Bridge began, with the official groundbreaking ceremonies held a month later, on Feb. 26, at the Presidio's Crissy Field.

The bridge came in under budget by $1.3 million and opened May 27, 1937. It provided an easy way for the people of San Francisco and parts south to get to Marin County and the Redwood Empire. The North Bay boomed. Three years after completion of the bridge, Marin County’s population was roughly 52,900. By 1950, Marin had grown to 85,600, and by 1960 to 146,800. In 1970, the population was 206,000.

The idea of spanning the Golden Gate took root in 1916, although the idea had been considered earlier, according to an account from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration site. An ex-engineering student, James Wilkins, was working as a journalist with the San Francisco Bulletin when he kicked off the idea that year by calling for a suspension bridge with a center span of 3,000 feet, nearly twice the length of any in existence.

San Francisco's city engineer, Michael M. O'Shaughnessy, thought the bridge would cost up to $100 million, but he began asking bridge engineers whether they could do it for less. Joseph Strauss, a Cincinnati-born Chicagoan, knew he could.

In the wake of The Depression, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District had few ways to fund the span and convinced voters to authorize bond financing. But the district found that it could not sell the bonds in Depression- era markets. Strauss approached San Francisco's A. P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, for help. Convinced that the Bay Area needed the bridge, Giannini told Strauss, "We will take the bonds."

Upon its completion, Poet Henry May called the span, "a curve of soaring steel, graceful and confident over infinity."

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