Published on Dec 29, 2019

Golden Gate Bridge Background Images

License Info: Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC

The history of bridge building in the world has always been characterized by the quest for better design and strength. The oldest surviving bridge, on the road between Epidavros and Nafplio in Greece, has stood for well over three thousand years. It is, of course, built of stone, a material that, along with iron and steel, has ensured the longevity of many bridges since. Roads in Britain still follow much of the map established by the Roman Empire, but their bridges were mainly constructed of timber and have long since disappeared, as ephemeral as the rivers that flowed beneath them.

Medieval bridges leading into towns also served as fortifications. The location of many of these bridges can be known by tracing the funds required to build and maintain them, which were generally put up by boroughs (via taxes), wealthy lords or the church. It was not uncommon to find a chapel built on a bridge or on the bank at either end; before Georgian times in England, one could see shops crowded along bridges, especially in larger cities, such as York, Bristol, and London.

The Industrial Revolution inspired major advances in bridge technology in Europe and in America. In the US, engineers experimented with different models, beginning in the 1850s and leading to established standards by the 1890s. Early bridge designs, often prototypes for later projects, capture specific moments in history.


Historic bridges in the United States are defined by their eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, established in 1966. Near Frederick, Maryland, you can visit three charming covered bridges, all built around the same time (1846-1856), and all registered since 1978.

Indeed, the design and construction of a specific bridge is both a snapshot of a moment in architectural history and a view into the preoccupations and priorities of the society that built it. The need for a bridge and the will to erect, maintain, and repair it over time often mobilized entire communities. Utica Mills began life as a two span bridge over one river, but after the Johnstown Flood washed it away in 1889, it was resurrected as a single span bridge over Fishing Creek. Loys Station was almost completely destroyed when someone set a pickup truck on fire on its deck as part of an insurance fraud scheme.

Throughout its lifetime, every bridge becomes a stage on which a cast of thousands act out their individual scenes. It is likely, for instance, that Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry crossed Roddy Road Covered Bridge in 1863 during the Gettysburg campaign of the Civil War. Since that time, the bridge has suffered damage and been repaired on many occasions, always as a result of citizens’ efforts. In 1992, a truck jammed into the bridge’s roof and truss. With the help of many volunteers and a local company, Heavy Timber Construction, the bridge was restored to its original condition in 1993.

The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, opened in 1883, was the first suspension bridge to use steel wire cables instead of iron. Sailors accustomed to high rigging were hired to string the 1,500 suspenders for the deck.

The risk above the bridge was matched by the danger below. To build the two giant stone towers, timber caissons were sunk deep into the riverbed and filled with concrete by crews of men in air-locked dungeons. Digging until they reached bedrock, some of the workers (dubbed “sand hogs”) were ultimately afflicted by decompression sickness, the same hazard risked by deep-water divers when rising to the surface too quickly. The condition disabled Brooklyn’s engineer, Washington A. Roebling, resulting in the completion of the work by proxy through his wife Emily, also a trained engineer. All told, at least 20 people lost their lives in the 14 years it took to build the Brooklyn Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate, the one-mile-wide (1.6 km) strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The structure links the American city of San Francisco, California—the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula—to Marin County, carrying both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the strait. The bridge is one of the most internationally recognized symbols of San Francisco, California, and the United States. It has been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Frommer’s travel guide describes the Golden Gate Bridge as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world.” At the time of its opening in 1937, it was both the longest and the tallest suspension bridge in the world, with a main span of 4,200 feet (1,280 m) and a total height of 746 feet (227 m).

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