The modern world didn’t just happen. It was built. Built by men and women who understood the value of hard work and overcoming the impossible to accomplish Historic Feats. Those are our kind of people. To celebrate them and their accomplishments, OXX is taking a closer look at some of the greatest feats of human ingenuity that America has ever seen.
Some of the innovations we take for granted came from humble beginnings. In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, some of the lifesaving safety precautions we see today began as the 746 foot structure emerged from the Golden Strait. For contributions to the construction industry, the OXX Team had to include the Golden Gate Bridge on our list.
The Fathoms Below
During the Depression, any well paying job attracted workers—even donning brass diving suits and descending 50 to 90 feet below the treacherous waters of the Golden Strait. The strait was where the fresh water of the mainland mixed with the Pacific Ocean to create strong, unpredictable currents. With their 150 to 175 pound suits, a team of divers would take to the water in 20-minute windows of time throughout the day. The divers were crucial to the progress of the bridge. Their job required them to clear the way for foundation of the towers. The teams would shoot black powder bombs into the bedrock through blasting tubes and guide panels, beams, and 40-ton steel forms into place before securing them. What you didn’t expect? Most of the work was done blindly. The combination of the murky water of the strait, the forceful currents, and the chunky diving suits made vision nearly impossible, forcing the divers to do most of their work by their sense of touch.
Many of the safety features we’re familiar with today we take for granted. In 1930, safety was not a primary concern for the top dogs calling the shots on a project. So imagine the surprise of the crew when for the first time in bridge building history the men were required to wear hard hats and safety harnesses. As lifesaving as that equipment was, the greatest innovation of the project was the installation of net suspended beneath the entire length of the bridge. Despite one fatal accident where a platform crashed through the net and killed 10 men, the rig was deemed a success, saving the lives of 19 men. The men who eluded death in the treacherous waters of the Golden Strait dubbed themselves the Halfway-To-Hell Club.
“Steeling” The Show
Arguably one of the most infamous features of the Golden Gate Bridge is its bright, burnt-orange color. The bridge’s architect Irving Morrow first saw the color painted on the steel that was arriving to the construction site. The steel had been painted with the orange-colored primer to protect it from the elements as it traveled from Pennsylvania by way of the Panama Canal. Although Morrow loved how the burnt-orange complemented the natural landscape of the strait, it took a 29-page document to the Department of War to convince them. Thankfully, it worked. The color of the bridge we see today has officially been called “International Orange.”
The Bridge Has Its Own Poem
In 1937 when the bridge’s construction was completed, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss put pen to paper. The result was “The Mighty Task is Done,” a poem describing the bridge’s beauty and mighty presence looming above the Golden Strait. This was not the first poem Strauss wrote about the Golden Gate Bridge. His first one, “The Redwoods” was written in 1931 and alluded to the beauty of California’s state tree. The second poem, “The Golden Gate Bridge,” was written sometime in 1937 and was written as if the bridge was boasting about its victorious construction as it defied the expectations of what could be built. (You can read all three poems here).
People said it couldn’t be done. There were too many factors, too many things that could go wrong. Thanks to the vision of some and the work of many, the Golden Strait was conquered. Rising from the fog stands one of our country’s most beloved landmarks, a testament to what man can do when he puts his mind to it.