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Ground Breaking

Construction began on January 5, 1933. This was followed by the official ground breaking ceremony held on February 26, 1933, at nearby Crissy Field (now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area). The start of construction was met with great delight. A celebration at nearby Crissy Field went on for hours with at least 100,000 people in attendance. The San Francisco newspaper wrote the next day, “Two hundred and fifty carrier pigeons, provided by the San Francisco Racing Pigeon Club to carry the message of groundbreaking to every corner of California, were so frightened by the surging human mass that small boys had to crawl into their compartments in the bridge replica to shoo them out with sticks.”

A festive parade through the Marina District began at 12:45 p.m. Navy planes flew in formation and engineering students carried an 80-foot replica of the Bridge. Governor James Rolph, San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, and Board President William P. Filmer made speeches, and a congratulatory telegram from President Herbert Hoover was read. At 4:00 p.m., Major General Craig gave the right-of-way grants to Filmer, and Rossi and Filmer then turned a golden spade.

View the Official Ground Breaking Ceremony program.

Read a 1934 Geology Report by Dr. Bailey Willis

Contracts & Costs

Eleven of the nation’s leading bridge engineering firms submitted construction proposals. On August 11, 1930, the War Department issued its final permit for the construction of a 4,200-foot main span with a vertical clearance of 220 feet at mid-span. On August 27, 1930, Joseph Strauss submitted final plans to the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Board of Directors. In November 1932, contracts totaling $23,843,905 were awarded for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The authorized bond issue was for $35 million and the total construction cost came in at $35 million which included $27,125,000 for the construction of the structure, $2,050,000 for Engineering and Inspection, $423,000 for Administrative and Preliminary Expenses, $4,068,000 for Financing, and $1,334,000 in surplus. The $27 million for final construction of the span is higher than the $23 million for the initial construction bids as other items were included in the final cost such as the toll plaza ($450,000), toll collection equipment ($72,000), tower elevators ($60,000), miscellaneous equipment ($45,000), and Military replacements and improvements ($575,000).

On October 14, 1932, bids were received for the following:

  • Contract I-A: Steel Superstructure to McClintic-Marshall Corporation, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, San Francisco, CA, in the amount of $10,494,000.
  • Contract I-B: Steel Cables, Suspenders & Accessories to John A. Roebling's Sons Company, Trenton, NJ, in the amount of $5,855,000.
  • Contract II: San Francisco Tower Pier and Fender, Marin Tower Pier to Pacific Bridge Company in the amount of $2,935,000.
  • Contract III: Anchorages and Piers of Approach Spans to Barrett & Hilp, San Francisco, CA, for $1,859,855.
  • Contract IV: Steel Superstructure for San Francisco and Marin Approaches to J.H. Pomeroy & Company, Inc. and Raymond Concrete Pile Co. in the amount of $934,800.
  • Contract V: Presidio Approach Road (later renamed Doyle Drive) to Eaton & Smith Construction Company, San Francisco, CA, in the amount of $996,000.
  • Contract VI: Sausalito Approach Road in the amount of $59,780.
  • Contract VII: Paving of Main Spans to Barrett & Hilp and Pacific Bridge Company in the amount of $555,000.
  • Contract VIII: Electrical Work to Alta Electric& Mechanical Company, Inc. in the amount of $154,470.

The nine contracts totaled $23,843,905. In November 1932, contracts were awarded for contracts I-B, II, III, IV, V, and VIII. Contract VI, the Sausalito Lateral (Alexander Avenue today), was not awarded and was later built as a WPA project.

Primary Contractors for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge included the following:

  • Marin and San Francisco Tower Piers: Pacific Bridge Company
  • Anchorages and Approach Piers: Barrett & Hilp
  • Structural Steel of Suspension Span and Towers: McClintic-Marshall Corporation, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel Corporation
  • Main Cables: John A. Roebling’s Sons Company
  • Structural Steel of Approaches: J.H. Pomeroy & Company, and Raymond Concrete Pile Company
  • Presidio Approach Road (Doyle Drive): Eaton & Smith Construction Company
  • Pavement for Suspension Spans and Approaches: Pacific Bridge Company and Barrett & Hilp
  • Electrical Work: Alta Electric & Mechanical Company

The last of the construction bonds was retired in 1971, with $35 million in principal and nearly $39 million in interest being paid entirely from Bridge tolls. With the exception of the Sausalito Lateral approach road (Alexander Avenue today) which was built as a federal WPA project, there was no state or federal funds involved in building the Golden Gate Bridge.

Construction Timeline

December 22, 1932: Extending from Fort Baker pier, the construction of a 1,700 foot-long access road began to access the construction sites for the Marin anchorage, pier and tower.

January 5, 1933: Construction officially started.

January 1933 to February 1936: Marin and San Francisco anchorages and associated pylons.

January 1933 to May 1935: San Francisco anchorage.

January 1933 to June 1933: Marin pier.

January 1933 to June 1935: Marin anchorage.

February 1933: Work began on the east approach road from San Francisco that extended through the Presidio to the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

March 1933: Steel for the San Francisco and Marin towers that was prefabricated in Bethlehem steel foundries in Pottstown and Steelton, PA was brought by flatcar to Philadelphia and transferred to barges and shipped through the Panama Canal to Alameda, CA where it was stored until the Marin pier was completed and ready for tower erection.

March 1933 to March 1934: San Francisco tower access trestle was constructed extending 1100 feet offshore. Just as the trestle was completed, it was significantly damaged for the first time on August 14, 1933, when the McCormick Steamship Line’s Sidney M. Hauptman plowed through the thick fog and crashed into the access trestle, damaging about 400 feet. After repairs were made, on December 13, 1933, as a southwest gale battered the Golden Gate Strait for two days, the access trestle was again battered and this time there was 800 feet of wreckage. Trestle repairs began shortly thereafter and completed March 8, 1934.

November 7, 1933: Marin tower construction started. Depending on the source referenced, it was completed either on June 28, 1934 or sometime in November 1934.

October 24, 1934: San Francisco fender wall completed.

November 27, 1934: San Francisco pier area within the fender wall was un-watered.

January 3, 1935: San Francisco pier reached its final height of 44 feet above the water.

January 1935 to June 28, 1935: San Francisco tower construction.

August 2, 1935 to September 27, 1935: Harbor Tug and Barge Company strung the first wire cables to support the footwalks (aka catwalks) constructed across the Golden Gate Strait in preparation for main cable spinning.

October 1935 to May 1936: Main cable spinning and compression.

April 1936: Start of the Sausalito lateral approach road which was constructed as a W.P.A. project.

July 1936 to December 14, 1936: Suspended structure.

July 21, 1936: Start of San Francisco approach viaduct structures and Fort Point arch construction.

November 18, 1936: Two sections of the Bridge's main span were joined in the middle. A brief ceremony marked the occasion when groups from San Francisco and Marin met and exchanged remarks at the center of the span. Major Thomas L. McKenna, Catholic Chaplin of Fort Scott, blessed the span while sprinkling holy water.

January 19, 1937 to April 19, 1937: Roadway completed.

For more more key dates, visit our Key Dates in Bridge History page

Safety First

The era of reckless daredevilry among “bridgemen” came to an end with the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, as Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss insisted on a rigid safety code, supported by the latest safety innovations.

Despite the high winds, churning currents, and towering heights that challenged the work, Strauss was determined to buck the industry’s deadly average of one fatality per million dollars spent on a construction project. “On the Golden Gate Bridge, we had the idea we could cheat death by providing every known safety device for workers,” he wrote in 1937 for The Saturday Evening Post. “To the annoyance of the daredevils who loved to stunt at the end of the cables, far out in space, we fired any man we caught stunting on the job.

According to Stephen Cassady’s Spanning the Gate (pg 104), “The Golden Gate was not the first big job to feature hard hats and safety lines as some have claimed. But it was the first to enforce their use with the threat of dismissal.”

In addition to wearing safety lines, workers benefited from features such as:

  • “Bullard” hard hats, mining helmets specially modified by Edward W. Bullard, a local safety equipment manufacturer. Read more about bullard hard hats below.
  • Respirator masks for the riveters, to prevent inhalation of lead-tainted fumes created when the hot rivets struck the lead paint of the towers.
  • Glare-free goggles to enhance visibility and ward off “snowblindness” caused by the sun reflecting off the water.
  • Special hand and face cream to protect against strafing winds.
  • Carefully formulated diets to help fight dizziness during the vertiginous tower and roadway construction.
  • Sauerkraut juice “cures” for any men suffering from hangovers.
  • On-site field hospital, staffed by doctors, set up near the wharf at Fort Point.
  • A safety net, suspended under the “floor” of the Bridge during the construction of the roadway structure (the stiffening truss). It was suspended along the entire length of the span from pylon to pylon; the $130,000 net—“made of manila rope, 3/8 in. diameter and 6 in. square mesh”—extended ten feet outside the trusses on both sides and gave workers the confidence to work more quickly.

Although the net did save 19 men (the “Halfway-to-Hell Club”), and Strauss’ safety regulations were considered to be the most rigorous in the history of bridge-building, tragedy still struck the project. Read more about the safety net and view some film footage about the Golden Gate Bridge safety net. 

More About Bullard Hard Hats

Edward W. Bullard, a local manufacturer of safety equipment, modified the mining helmet he had developed into an industrial hard hat that Strauss insisted be worn on the job. Bullard also designed a simple sand-blast respirator helmet for use during construction. Safety measures also included glare-free goggles, special hand and face cream to protect against the wind, and special diets to help fight dizziness.


More About the Safety Net & Video Footage

While the net did save the lives of 19 men who became known as the “Halfway-to-Hell Club”, eleven men did die during construction. The first fatality was Kermit Moore on October 21, 1936. Then, on February 17, sadly ten men – O.A. Anderson, Chris Andersen, William Bass, Orrill Desper, Fred Dümmatzen, Terence Hallinan, Eldridge Hillen, Charles Lindros, Jack Norman, and Louis Russell – lost their lives when a section of scaffold fell through the safety net. The men are honored on a plaque located at the south side entrance to the west sidewalk.

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