The Building of the Golden Gate Bridge
The building of the Golden Gate bridge began in 1933, during the Great Depression. Four years later the bridge was opened with a week-long celebration. Built by working class union members, it has become the most iconic bridge in the world.
This bridge links the northern Bay Area with San Francisco. Before the completion of the bridge San Francisco was home to the largest ferry system in the world. Ferry boats would take passengers and cars between San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. The ferry system was owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad company, one of the largest and most influential corporations in California at the time. The Southern Pacific became the largest opponent of the Golden Gate. The ferry service was bringing in around $4,000 a day to the railroad. At one point the people of San Francisco got so fed up with the railroad's opposition and court maneuverings that they organized a boycott of the ferry service. Of course the Southern Pacific was not the only opposition to the bridge. Some did not want to pay the taxes for the new bridge, others were concerned that ships would not be able to travel under the bridge and others believed the a bridge would destroy the natural beauty of the bay.
Eventually the opposition to the bridge was overcome and the building began. One stipulation that local unions were able to win was a guarantee that the work done on the bridge was performed by local union members. Being the middle of the Great Depression, jobs were hard to come by as it was, but well paying union jobs were even more scarce. One out of four people could not find work. Breadlines were common. The bridge provided much needed living wages for those who worked on it.
San Francisco at the time did not have a huge amount of ironworkers. Men from around the West came to San Francisco claiming to be knowledgeable iron workers. A blackmarket for San Francisco identification was also formed, where non-residents would pay locals to use their ID to be able to work on the bridge. Many of those who built the bridge were unemployed farmers, taxi driver, office clerks and others. Surviving the wind, fog, rain and sun they became construction workers.
Workers began their shift when they reached their work area. Climbing over the bridge up to where they worked was part of their unpaid commute. There was a safety net which would catch workers who fell off the bridge. The nineteen men who made such a fall into the safety net were said to have joined the 'halfway-to-hell' club. Not everyone worked atop of the bridge. Some were moving and mixing the concrete need for the two twelve story tall anchorages on which the bridge sits. Divers had to traverse the tides and sea waters to place the explosives needed to clear the seabed for the anchorages.
The total number of men who worked on the bridge is unknown. Eleven men died during the construction of the bridge. Ten in a single accident about three months before the completion of the bridge. During the opening of the bridge a memorial was placed at the site of this accident and those exploring the new bridge paid their respects.
At the time of construction the golden Gate's 4,200 foot span was the longest in the world. The bridge remains both a beautiful icon of the Bay Area and an effective connection between San Francisco and the North Bay. It is currently maintained by about 50 ironworkers and painters.