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What is the Golden Gate Bridge?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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The Golden Gate Bridge is a distinctive bright red landmark on the San Francisco skyline, and is one of the more recognizable architectural features in the United States. The Golden Gate Bridge connects Marin County to the north with the City and County of San Francisco to the south. It was opened in 1937 as the longest suspension bridge in the world. Several bridges around the world have since usurped the title, but the Golden Gates Bridge remains an iconic figure in American engineering. The suspension bridge incorporates a stylish Art Deco design which blends in well with the surrounding topography, and is painted and maintained in a shade known as International Orange.

The Golden Gate Bridge was the brainchild of Joseph Strauss, who also pushed for the use of a red paint on the bridge because he felt it would blend in better with the surrounding landscape. In addition to being a resourceful engineer, Strauss was also very committed to worker safety. Only 11 people were killed during the construction of the bridge, an outstanding safety record for a five year long construction project of that size. One of the safety innovations used during construction was a net under the deck of the bridge, which has since become common construction practice.

The Golden Gate Bridge was made possible by a joint effort of six California counties: San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Del Norte. The counties formed the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, which raised funds and voted on the final design for the bridge. The final chosen design for the Golden Gate Bridge, by Irving Morrow, integrated Art Deco elements with functionality, and has two towers which stand 746 feet (227 meters) above the water of the Bay. This allows large container and cargo ships to access the ports of San Francisco and Oakland.

The Golden Gate Bridge employs 38 full time painters who touch up the paintwork on the bridge as needed, and 17 iron workers responsible for replacing worn and corroded rivets. In 1965, the original coat of paint on the bridge was removed due to corrosion and replaced with a zinc silicate primer and acrylic top coat. This process took thirty years from one end of the 1.7 mile (2,737 meter) bridge to the other.

During extreme weather conditions, the Golden Gate Bridge can be dangerous. It has been closed three times since 1937 due to hazardous conditions. Approximately 40 million vehicles cross the Golden Gate Bridge every year, with cars bound for San Francisco paying a toll. The bridge has five lanes of two-way traffic separated by a row of movable traffic pegs, which are adjusted depending upon the flow of traffic. Increased traffic conditions on the Golden Gate Bridge led to debate on restructuring the bridge to accommodate additional traffic in the early twenty first century, but no resolution was reached.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By lluviaporos — On Feb 17, 2014

@browncoat - I really want to go and see it one day. Although I've always wondered why it's called the Golden Gate when it's been painted such a bright red color. You wouldn't think that a color like that would work well in a harbor but it always looks very striking in photos.

By browncoat — On Feb 16, 2014

@Fa5t3r - There's a famous quote about San Francisco that I'm going to paraphrase because I can't remember it exactly, but it says something like "The Golden Gate Bridge does a strip tease with the fog that is still the best show in town".

I was actually quite shocked by how many signs they had up there in order to deter jumpers. Apparently Golden Gate Bridge jumpers will come from miles away just to commit suicide off a famous bridge and there are phones and signs all up and down it in order to try and convince them not to.

I know it's a bit flippant, but the fall would convince me. It's a lot higher up than it seems when you see it in pictures.

By Fa5t3r — On Feb 15, 2014

I loved walking along it when I was in San Francisco. You have to get at least one Golden Gate Bridge photo when you are there, even if you don't manage to walk along it. It's visible from many parts of the city.

The best time to photograph it is supposedly in the very early morning, when there is a bit of fog and the light is beautiful.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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