January 5, 2013 - Golden Gate Bridge Begun

– 1933

It couldn't be built, some experts said. And if it were built, it wouldn't last. A bridge across what was termed the “golden gate” to San Francisco Bay certainly couldn't stand up against the vigorous tides, swirling currents, and strong winds common in that area.

But it was a terrible hassle for people living in San Francisco to drive all around the bay to reach the land just 6,700 feet (some 2,000 meters) away to the north, which is now Marin County. Instead of driving all that long way, people had to take a ferry boat—carefully driving their cars onto the ferry, traveling for about half an hour across the water, and then driving off again as they reached their destination.

People wished that it was practical and affordable to build a bridge!

Well, some people wished for a bridge. The owners of the Southern Pacific Railroad were dead-set against building a bridge, because they also owned the ferry service, and it was very profitable. Very, very profitable—after all, they had a monopoly...people who wanted to go from San Francisco to Marin County, or vice versa, didn't have too many choices!

When a dreamy, ambitious engineer named Joseph Strauss promised the city of San Francisco that he could build an affordable bridge across the strait, the railroad company opposed the project and even brought a lawsuit against it.

So people boycotted the ferry service. That means that, even though they would normally use the Southern Pacific's ferries—even though they wanted to and needed to use the ferries—they didn't use them, in order to make a point. The point was this: We want a bridge. And if you prevent us from getting our bridge, we won't use your ferry service.

The massive boycott worked. A few pro-bridge court rulings plus a state law later, planning went forward, and construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge on this date in 1933.
Hooray for poets and dreamers!

Joseph Strauss, head engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, was also a poet and was even class poet at his university. He is credited with building more than 400 bridges around the world; after the Golden Gate Bridge was complete, he wrote his most famous poem, “The Mighty Task Is Done.”

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The bridge looms mountain high;
Its Titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.
On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast land-locked Bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all--the sea.
Launched 'midst a thousand hopes and fears
Damned by a thousand hostile seers
Yet ne'er its course was stayed
But ask of those who met the foe,
Who stood alone when faith was low
Ask them the price they paid.
Ask of the steel, each strut and wire,
Ask of the searching, purging fire
That marked their natal hour;
Ask of the mind, the hand, the heart,
Ask of each single stalwart part
What gave it force and power.
An honored cause and nobly fought,
And that which they so bravely wrought
Now glorifies their deed;
No selfish urge shall stain its life,
Nor envy, greed, intrigue, nor strife,
Nor false, ignoble creed.
High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life's restless stream
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this was spun its lithe fine form
To fear not war, not time, not storm,
For Fate had meant it so.
One of the best things I read about Strauss was that he came up with a way to use movable safety netting beneath the construction site. This innovation was credited with saving 19 workers' lives. (Unfortunately, 10 workers died when the netting failed under the stress of a fallen scaffold, and one more died in another way.) But the death toll from falls would have been 30 rather than 11!)

Also on this date:

Birthday of Aaron Lapin, the “King of Whipped Cream”

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