Financial History 139 (Fall 2021) - Page 17

Library of Congress

Bridging the San Francisco Bay

By Michael A . Martorelli
No less an authority than Popular Science told its readers in May 1931 that San Francisco would soon have the “ World ’ s Greatest Bridges .” Construction crews would be building two record-breaking spans over the San Francisco Bay . The Golden Gate Bridge would be the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world and connect the city with Sausalito and Marin County to the north . The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge would be the longest span of any kind , stretching more than seven miles from the city to Goat Island ( soon to be renamed Yerba Buena Island ), then continuing across to Oakland . Spending almost $ 100 million to build two bridges in the same city at the same time would rank as one of the greatest feats of construction during the Great Depression . As the United
The Golden Gate Bridge , 2012 .
States considers how to improve its physical infrastructure of bridges , tunnels and highways , it seems an appropriate time to revisit the story of those iconic elements of the San Francisco skyline .
Planning a Connection to the North
San Francisco rebuilt itself after the 1906 earthquake , survived an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1908 and enjoyed a moment in the national spotlight while hosting the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition . In the aftermath of that experience , political officials began seriously considering proposals for bridges from the city to the counties surrounding the bay . But their interest soon shifted from such local issues to the upcoming presidential election and the war in Europe .
After the signing of the Armistice in November 1918 , public officials and citizens alike showed a renewed interest in building bridges across the bay . City Engineer Michael O ’ Shaughnessy and J . B . Strauss & Co .’ s Joseph Strauss had worked together to build the Fourth Street Bridge in an industrial section of the city in 1916 . Therefore , Strauss was among the handful of engineers O ’ Shaughnessy approached in 1920 about building a bridge across the Golden Gate . He also asked the US Coast and Geodetic Survey to take soundings to examine the underwater contours of that strait . That work showed favorable rock ledges on both shorelines , so in 1921 Strauss proposed a combination cantilever and suspension bridge . Its 950-foot-high crisscross steel beam towers would rest on concrete , rock-faced piers ; its cantilever framework would extend across 1,300 feet ; and its suspended cables would stretch more than 4,000 feet from tower to tower . Strauss estimated the cost of construction at $ 17.2 million .
Without a commitment from anyone , Strauss began promoting his bridge to audiences throughout the counties north of the Golden Gate . Not everyone was in love with his rather inelegant and unaesthetic design . However , having a design of any kind proved to be a sufficient
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