San Francisco, California, 1915: Say you wanted to get from San Francisco to what is now Marin County, California. Your fastest option was to use the Golden Gate Ferry Company, which took you on a 27-minute ride from the San Francisco Ferry Building to Sausalito.
Today, you can make a similar trip in less than three minutes by driving across the nearly 9,000-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge.
This massively improved travel time was made possible by the persistent efforts of a visionary engineer named Joseph Baermann Strauss and the manufacturing capabilities of Strauss’ one-time employer, John A. Roebling’s Sons Company in Trenton.
The first serious discussions about bridging the so-called Golden Gate between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean took place between Strauss and San Francisco’s city engineer, Michael O’Shaughnessy, in 1919. The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937 at a cost of more than $35 million.
This year, the Roebling Museum celebrates the bridge’s 75th anniversary and the Roebling Company’s contributions to the bridge with a commemorative exhibit opening this Saturday, May 26. The exhibit, titled “Spinning Gold — The Roebling Company and the Golden Gate Bridge,” runs through December 31. Opening festivities including remarks by dignitaries and appearances by Roebling family descendants take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will also be Golden Gate birthday cake and bridge-themed craft projects for kids on the museum’s seven-acre grounds.
The exhibit was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and includes never-before seen construction photographs from the Roebling Archives. The museum will also show archival film footage of the construction of the bridge in its Roma Bank Media Room. The Roebling exhibit coincides with celebrations occurring across the country organized by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Visit www.goldengatebridge75.org for more information.
Planning and constructing the bridge was truly a nation-wide affair. Strauss, a Cincinnati native, had worked in Trenton for two years, and after a series of other positions started his own engineering consulting firm in Chicago. Charles Ellis, a Maine native and eventually a professor at the universities of Michigan and Illinois, was in charge of design details. And architect Irving F. Morrow of Oakland was hired as a consultant. He was responsible for the world-famous orange color of the bridge, chosen to make the bridge most visible in foggy conditions.
But perhaps most importantly the wire ropes used as suspenders for the bridge were manufactured in New Jersey by the Roebling Company. The 55,144 wires created in factories in Trenton and Roebling were then transported to San Francisco, where Roebling’s bridge men and engineers spun the wires on-site using an aerial traveler wheel invented by the company.
This new technology enabled workers to install more than 1,000 miles of cable during an eight-hour shift. The cables, which were the largest ever spun at the time, were finished months ahead of schedule.
“There is a lesson in those cables,” the New York Times wrote in 1937, “So delicate to the eye, so strong in reality.”
“Spinning Gold — The Roebling Company and the Golden Gate Bridge,” Roebling Museum, 100 Second Avenue, Roebling. Opens Saturday, May 26, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 609-499-7200 or www.roeblingmuseum.org.
Getting There: From Route 1, take I-295 south to Exit 57B for Route 130 south. Turn right on Hornberger Avenue, then right on Second Avenue.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through August; closed Wednesdays from August through December.