Bay Bridge History
Bay Bridge Celebrates 79th Anniversary of Groundbreaking
On July 9, 1933, the California Department of Public Works broke ground on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Crowds gathered at Yerba Buena Island to celebrate the world’s longest steel structure. The 1-day ceremony included performances by the Young Women of Bay Cities and the United States Navy Band; an airplane flight that linked Rincon Hill and Oakland with a symbolic bridge of smoke; and a simultaneous detonation of blasts at Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco and Oakland by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt from the White House.
The Original Bay Bridge
In 1936, the East and West communities of the Bay Area came together like never before. While ferries had long carried people across the Bay's often choppy waters, automobiles were the future of transportation. This meant local residents wanted a quick way to drive between the rapidly growing cities of San Francisco and Oakland. As expected, as soon as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was built in 1936, it immediately became the favorite way to travel between San Francisco and the East Bay.
Cynics believed that the bridge would be impossible to build due to the potential impact of turbulent waters and gusty winds. Engineers had assumed that the area's high winds posed a greater threat than earthquakes, despite the bridge's proximity to two major fault lines. The varying soils and water depths, the inaccessibility to bedrock, and the unique design challenges inherent in developing a bridge to span eight miles across the Bay led some to believe that building such a bridge was unthinkable.
The largest and most expensive bridge of its time, the Bay Bridge faced not just natural obstacles, but political hurdles as well. There had been discussion of building a bridge between San Francisco and Oakland since the 1870s, but construction did not move forward until the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, with support from President Herbert Hoover, agreed to purchase bonds to be repaid later with bridge tolls.
Listen to the 1936 radio broadcast of the opening event.
- Bay Bridge construction began July 9, 1933
- The bridge opened November 12, 1936
- Until 1962 cars drove in both directions on the upper deck, while trucks and trains travelled in both directions on the lower deck
- The bridge carried 9 million vehicles in its first year (102,200,000 per year today)
- The cost of the original bridge was $77 million in 1936 (included Transbay Transit Terminal)
- Key System trains operated on the bridge from 1938 to 1958
- In 1962 the bridge was reconfigured to carry cars and trucks only
- The East Span suffered a partial collapse in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake
- The Bay Bridge was the longest bridge in the world when it was built
- The center West Span anchorage was larger than any building in San Francisco at the time
- Opening celebrations around the area lasted four days