How much do you really know about our internationally loved and famed Golden Gate Bridge? For starters, it’s the most photographed bridge in the world. It’s one of the seven civil engineering wonders of the US, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Incredibly, it was built during the Great Depression completely with private funding (bonds).
But there's so many more fun facts to learn. Here are some tidbits you toss into the cocktail conversation to show off your San Francisco je ne sais quoi.
The name: The bridge is named after the strait it spans, not its color. Turns out people have been calling our little slice of heaven "golden" for over 150 years now. Entering San Francisco Bay from the Pacific in 1864, U.S. Army officer and explorer John C. Frémont named the strait Chrysopylae. Bet you can guess what that translates to: Golden Gate.
The color: International Orange, the famous hue of the bridge, is actually just primer paint. Irving Morrow, an architect consulting on the job convinced everyone International Orange was better than the other two proposals: yellow and black stripes (the U.S. Navy's preference) or red and white stripes (the U.S. Army Corps' choice). Thank you Irving Morrow, thank you.
The funding: Usually, public projects like this get funding from the state and federal governments, right? Try doing that in the middle of the Great Depression. Instead, San Francisco voters put their homes on the line and voted to pass $35 million* in bonds toward the project. Even more oddly, the San Francisco-based Bank of America later bought those bonds and then privately funded the rest of the project. Not exactly how public projects get done today.
*It cost $35 million to build the bridge in the 1930s. That's about $58 billion today. Ah, the perspective.
$11 :: Highest daily wage (in dollars) that was paid to bridge laborers. That may seem like a small sum, but in today's dollars it's roughly $180.
11 :: Number of workers who died building the bridge—relatively low, compared to industry standards at the time, which claimed you should expect to loose one employ for every million dollars spent on the project.
The Halfway to Hell Club: A group of 19 workers who would have lost their lives if it weren't for the safety net that the chief engineer had installed. It was a revelation in construction safety protocol at the time. Still not a club you wanted to be part of.
9 :: The Golden Gate Bridge’s current ranking on the list of the world’s longest suspension bridges. When it opened in 1937, it was No. 1. It remained so until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York opened in 1964. Today it is the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, which was built in 1998.
746 feet :: Height of the Golden Gate Bridge’s towers, though they may appear even taller because they’re tapered.
400 feet :: The depth of the channel beneath the span.
16 feet :: Height that the bridge roadway can move up and down.*
*The span completely flattened in 1987. Three hundred thousand people piled onto the bridge to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It only dipped 7 feet, no biggie.
The toll: In 2012, the Golden Gate Bridge closed their toll booths and forced all bridge commuters to go automated. What's the mean exactly? Cars with Fastrak just breeze through. If you don't have Fastrak? Don't worry, the bill gets sent in the mail. Yes, somehow they just know.
The fog horns: On a foggy day, you might hear horns blowing from clear across the city. Those would be the fog horns of the Golden Gate Bridge, installed to help ship traffic navigate through the channel in dense fog. Each fog horn has a different pitch, which reads on ships frequency radar so they know whether to stay to the right or the left of the towers.
123,000 :: Number of ferry trips made annually in between Marin and San Francisco before the span was built.
40 million :: The number of cars that now go across the bridge annually.
11 :: Movies made in the last five years that have destroyed San Francisco. Hollywood loves to destroy us. We can't argue. It does make for a good blockbuster. But the Golden Gate seems to have the target on its back. From basically being walked through by a creature in Pacific Rim to being pummeled by a massive tsunami in San Andreas, there've been a lot of disaster scenarios. Good thing the bridge is nearly indestructible*.
*We've spent $660 million on retrofitting since 1997.
Updated August 2016 by current SF Travel Expert, Annie Tittiger.