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Bay Bridge Info

BAY BRIDGE HISTORY TIMELINE

1872

Emperor Norton

EMPEROR'S DECREE

The self-proclaimed Emperor Norton was a celebrated and highly eccentric citizen of San Francisco and the first to decree that a suspension bridge be constructed to connect Oakland to San Francisco. On September 17, 1872 he decreed:

"Whereas, we issued our decree ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel; and to ascertain which is the best project; and whereas the said citizens have hitherto neglected to notice our said decree; and whereas we are determined our authority shall be fully respected; now, therefore, we do hereby command the arrest by the army of both the Boards of City Fathers if they persist in neglecting our decrees.”

Although his decree to build a bridge had widespread public and political appeal, the task was too much of an engineering and economic challenge at the time.

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1913

Early sketch of Bay Bridge

EARLY BRIDGE DESIGN

With the increasing popularity and availability of the automobile, support continued to grow for a trans-bay crossing. In 1929, the California Legislature established the California Toll Bridge Authority with the responsibility of connecting San Francisco and Alameda County with a bridge.

To make the bridge design feasible, its route was chosen to pass through Yerba Buena Island, significantly reducing the amount of material and construction labor needed to build a trans-bay crossing. Yerba Buena Island was a U.S. Navy base at the time—and remained so until 1997—so the approval of the U.S. Congress, which regulates the armed services and supervises all naval and military bases, was necessary for this island to be used. After a great deal of lobbying, California received Congressional approval to use the island on February 20, 1931.

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1920

Boats, Trains and Automobiles

Demands for a bridge were the result of economic and social changes in the Bay Area, including increasing popularity of the automobile. Before the bridge was built ferries carried passengers between San Francisco and Oakland. As the ferry system declined and railroads become the source of transporting goods, San Francisco was concerned about access. An association of San Francisco motor car dealers funded an engineering study of the feasibility of a bay crossing consisting of a tunnel and concrete causeway. The original plans for the Bay Bridge included a key system with railway access across the bridge.

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1927

Typical cross section of bridge

Image courtesy of Caltrans

THE RIDGEWAY REPORT

The Ridgeway Report was an official, sanctioned study by San Francisco that did not conclude a bridge spanning the bay was technically or financially feasible, although it suggested a bridge could be built. The key issues were the location, bridge type and funding. This was the first report that gave the community something tangible to rally around. The following year a bill was introduced into Congress authorizing construction of a bridge across the bay, but it was stalled due to objections by the Army and Navy.

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1929

bridge comparison diagram
Image Courtesy of Caltrans

A DREAM REALIZED

California legislature established the California Toll Bridge Authority with the responsibility of constructing a bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. The following year the Hoover-Young Commission was established by President Hoover to help push for the bridge through federal involvement. During the great depression unemployment was combated through public works, which is why many U.S. bridges were built during the depression era.

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1930

Original Plan

CANTILEVER AND SUSPENSION

Fourteen designs were submitted for the 8.4-mile-long original Bay Bridge including high steel trusses, cantilever spans, bascule spans and suspension bridges. A suspension bridge for the East Span was determined to be unfeasible due to the physical conditions of the bay. Ultimately, a cantilever bridge was chosen to span Oakland to Yerba Buena Island and a suspension bridge from the island to San Francisco, with a bore tunnel connecting the two.

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1933


Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

ARCHITECTS

San Francisco Architect Timothy L. Pflueger and Chief Engineer C. H. Purcell are looking at a model of an approach to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Pflueger was chairman of a board of consulting architects to help with the design of the bridge, Transbay Terminal, toll booths and administrate buildings. Originally, the board wanted the bridge to be painted black to highlight its complexities, but ultimately they chose grey to “harmonize the steel and concrete elements”.

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1933

Engineers
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

ENGINEERS

Bridge engineers (l-r) Charles E. Andrew, C. H. Purcell and Glenn Woodruff inspect the West Bay crossing of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Charles Henry Purcell was the Chief Engineer for the Bay Bridge. It was customary in that time to give credit to one engineer, but in reality not one person could have executed a project of this caliber. He relied heavily on a team of experts and an engineering committee.

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1933

Groundbreaking
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

GROUNDBREAKING

The groundbreaking ceremony took place on July 9, 1933 when construction began on the longest bridge in the world at that time. It took three years and five months to complete the Bay Bridge. The final bridge cost was approximately $77 million, $6 million under the estimated cost.

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1933

Foundation Work
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

CONSTRUCTION BEGINS

A tugboat towed a barge to be loaded with soil from the excavation on Yerba Buena Island. Further west were the caissons for Pier 6. American Bridge was the primary contractor for the construction of the original bridge, and is also building portions of the new bridge!

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1933-1936

Bridge Workers
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Workers

More than 8,300 men worked on the original Bay Bridge. The workforce was not unionized except for eight unionized crafts. The average wage was $7.75 per day, and all the workers were men.

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1933-1936

A RISKY ENDEAVOR

Bridge building in those days was a risky endeavor. Minimal safety gear and few regulations contributed to serious injuries and sometimes death for construction workers. The unofficial rule of thumb was there would be one death for every million dollars spent. The odds were if a man worked on the bridge for more than a year and a half he was likely to suffer at least one serious injury. There were a total of 28 fatalities during construction.

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1933-1936

Worker hanging by rope
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Worker's Stories

"So I shall never forget the day I first set foot on the Bay Bridge catwalk...nothing but a little wire mesh and a lot of open air between me and the bay below. The worst aspect was not being able to show any fear. Those steelworkers were merciless, and to preserve our self-respect we had to act nonchalant and follow along, walking those beams and planks, climbing though small holes and hanging by our teeth even though our clothes were drenched with cold sweat.”- Arthur L. Elliot, Engineer

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1933-1936

Men working on catwalk
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Worker's Stories

When steel worker Al Zampa was asked about his favorite bridge he replied, "My favorite? Bay Bridge. Jesus, look at her. Two suspensions end to end, six different kinds of bridges, 8 ¼ miles long, deepest piers in the world. We lost 24 men; we dangled up there like monkey’s driving shot iron. No net. You fell, that was it. They thought we was all crazy.”


1933-1936

Workers on Bay Bridge
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Worker's Stories

A high steel worker named Joe Walton claimed responsibility for the myth that a man was buried in the concrete on the center anchorage. He and his friends played a prank and packed a pair of shoes into the concrete on the center anchorage, which quickly spread the rumor that someone was buried there.

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1933-1936

Workers on Bay Bridge
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Cable Construction

The actual cable spinning operation involved carrying wire from one anchorage to the next, over the tops of the towers. While it followed a predictable process, this operation was also among the most technically challenging, requiring the services of skilled workmen at nearly every juncture and subjecting the workmen to the greatest danger.

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1933-1936

Workers on Bay Bridge
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

YERBA BUENA ISLAND TUNNEL

There were many engineering challenges because of the physical conditions of the Bay. The center anchorage was larger than any building in San Francisco and the Yerba Buena Island tunnel was the largest bore tunnel in the world at the time. It remains the largest bore tunnel in the world.

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1933-1936

Kaiser Shipbuilding in Oakland
Image courtesy of Caltrans

KAISER SHIPBUILDING IN OAKLAND

Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, a creation of American industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, was established in the 1930’s to help meet the construction goals set by the United States Maritime Commission during World War II.


1933-1936

Bay Bridge
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The Bay Bridge Poem

How many minds and hands are joined to rear
This towered path across the tide-swept bay!
Men pitied Norton, but the engineer
Has made his dreams reality. Today
Gaunt towers pierce the foggy shroud of night
And flood-lights gleam on blocks of man-made stone
That bind to rock, against the water’s might,
An highways, such as gods did never own!
Do they, secure in their place on high,
Cold and undreaming, prideful of their sway,
Feel, as they tread their yet unspoiled domain,
That track that we fling across their virgin sky
Is sacrilege? Surely, they too must pray
That this, a madman’s dream, we shall attain!

Written by Junior Construction Engineer, Peter Mourer, Jr.

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1936

Model of bridge approach

A RACE TO THE FINISH

Construction work on the West Span high above the Bay only nine months before completion.

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1936


Opening Day

The Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936 at 12:30 p.m. A chain cutting ceremony took place where former San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, former President Herbert Hoover and Chief Engineer C. H. Purcell looked on while former California Governor Frank Merriam opened the Bay Bridge.

"This bridge is a sample of the West to come, a signal for renewed civic effort, a proof that the pioneer spirit of San Francisco still lives. This magnificent structure will serve to unite us more closely with our friendly neighbors across the bay and means progress for all of us.”- Stated by Former San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi at the opening ceremony.

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1936

Green Light
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Bay Bridge Gets the Green Light

When the ceremonies were completed, President Roosevelt telephoned workers on two sides of the bridge to flash a green light to signal the bridge was officially open.

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1936

Celebration
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

A WEEKLONG CELEBRATION

Five days of opening day celebrations lasted from November 11-15, 1936, including a boat parade, Navy air show, yacht regatta, Navy ship race, air parade of China Clippers, football games and more!

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1936

Traffic Jam
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

GREATEST TRAFFIC JAM IN SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY

All the ceremonies were very well attended with more than one million people at the parade alone. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the opening caused "the greatest traffic jam in the history of San Francisco".

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1936

Pageant Queens
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Pageant Queens

Miss Berkeley, International Queen, and Miss Oakland are holding the chain barrier of the bridge at the opening ceremony.

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1936

Parade Tickets
Image courtesy of California State Archives

Parade Tickets

A ticket to both opening parades cost only $2.50!

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1936

Opening Day Parade
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Opening Day Parade

A float sponsored by Los Angeles County is passing by spectators in the opening day parade.

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1936

Navy Ball
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

THE NAVY BALL

There were numerous balls for held for the opening of the Bay Bridge. The Navy ball was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Two balls were held in Oakland, one for the sailors and one for the public, which was held at the Oakland Auditorium.

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1936

Spotlights
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Spotlights off San Francisco Illuminate the Sky

Poem by Evelyn Simms read by Governor Merriam at the Bay Bridge opening:

They have builded magnificent bridges where the nation's highways go;
O'er perilous mountain ridges and where great rivers flow.
Wherever a link was needed between the new and the known
They have left their marks of Progress, in iron and steel and stone.
There was never a land too distant nor ever a way too wide,
But some man's mind, insistent, reached out to the other side.
They cleared the way, these heroes, for the march of future years.
The march of Civilization-and they were its Pioneers.
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1936

Commemorative Coin
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Commemorative Coin

The original model of the United State half dollars in connection with the opening celebration of San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

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1937

Toll Plaza
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Toll Plaza

In its first year the Bay Bridge served 9 million vehicles. The toll to cross the bridge was 65 cents in each direction, which is equivalent to $8 today!

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1937

Toll Collectors
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Toll Collectors

Motorist Jerie Deane is paying toll collector Peter Weaver at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

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1937

Greetings From The Bay Bridge
Image courtesy of California State Archives

HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM THE BAY BRIDGE

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge holiday greeting card, 1937.

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1938

Train Service on the Bridge
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Train Service on the Bridge

Train service across the Bay Bridge began on September 23, 1938 and ended in April 1958. The upper deck carried three lanes of automobile traffic in each direction, while the lower deck carried three lanes of truck and auto traffic on the north side and two railroad tracks on the south side.

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1938

THE KEY SYSTEM

Key System connected cities in the East Bay to San Francisco by way of trains running on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. The service reached its height in the 1940's but ridership decreased and the service was discontinued after only 15 years. The tracks were removed from the bridge in 1958.

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1938

Toll Ticket
Image Courtesy of California State Archives

A Ticket to Ride

A ticket for a vehicle to cross the Bay Bridge in 1938.

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1939

World’s Fair
Image Courtesy of California State Archives

World’s Fair Golden Gate International Exposition

The World’s Fair Golden Gate International Exposition was originally planned as celebration of the completion of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, but it wasn’t held for nearly three years after completion. It was held on Treasure Island, which is an artificial island made from the dirt excavated from the Yerba Buena Island bore tunnel.

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1939

Treasure Island
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Treasure Island

Peggy Marks turning a valve to begin filling a reservoir on Yerba Buena Island for the 1939 Exposition held on Treasure Island.

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1950

Speed Decreased
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Speed Decreased on the Bay Bridge

Bay Bridge speed limit being changed from 45 mph to 40 mph in 1950.

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1950

Bay Bridge Safety
Image courtesy of California State Archives

Bay Bridge Safety

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge safety rules issued by the California Highway Patrol.

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1950

West Span
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Bay Bridge West Span

Aerial view of the Bay Bridge in 1950.

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1958

Ferry Boat
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

1958 FERRY

A ferry boat in Alameda with crowded with commuters in 1958. Before the bridge was built the ferry was the primary transportation for commuters between San Francisco and Oakland.

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1958

Key System
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

1958 KEY SYSTEM

Passengers boarding a Key System train in 1958. The Key System consisted of local streetcar and bus lines operating solely in the East Bay, and a network of commuter rail and bus lines connecting the East Bay to San Francisco via the lower deck of the Bay Bridge.

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1963

Big Change
Image courtesy of Caltrans

THE BIG CHANGE

After the closure of the Key System the Bay Bridge was reconfigured to have five westbound lanes on the upper deck and five eastbound lanes on the lower deck. Reconstructing the double-deck roadways within Yerba Buena Island tunnel was a major engineering feat.

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1986

50th Birthday
Image courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

THE BAY BRIDGE 50TH BIRTHDAY

The 50th anniversary celebration of the Bay Bridge began in November, 1986. The series of lights adorning the suspension cables on the West Span was added as part of the bridge's 50th anniversary celebration.

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1989

Loma Prieta

LOMA PRIETA STRIKES

At 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Bay Area. The upper deck at pier E9 on the Bay Bridge failed and crashed into the lower deck, also causing the lower deck to fail. The suspension bridge on the West Span is inherently more flexible and was able to withstand the earthquake. It was the rigid structure of the truss bridge on the East Span that made it more susceptible to failure.

The third game of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics was set to begin at 5:30 p.m. at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Many commuters were listening to the game on their radios as they sat in traffic. There was one fatality on the Bay Bridge, which was a result of confusion around exiting the bridge after the failure.

The bridge was then closed for a month-long repair. At that time, it was determined that the bridge needed a long-term solution, which resulted in the retrofit of the West Span and replacement of the East Span.

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1989

Bay Bridge Troll

THE BAY BRIDGE TROLL

The Bay Bridge Troll was placed on the Bay Bridge during repairs after the 1989 earthquake as a symbol of protection. A group of ironworkers affixed the 18-inch sculpture without knowledge or consent from Caltrans, and it was later discovered by a maintenance worker. It is said to be created by a local Bay Area blacksmith. The troll first came to the public's attention on January 15, 1990 when the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about the small figure of a troll with a spud wrench that had been welded to the iron below the upper deck on the north side of the bridge. When the original east span is demolished, the troll will be relocated. 

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2002

New Bay Bridge
Image courtesy of Caltrans

A New San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

Construction began on the new Bay Bridge. The West Span would be retrofitted through reinforcement and the East Span would be replaced entirely with a new design, including the world’s longest Self-Anchored Suspension Span. The new Bay Bridge is scheduled for completion in 2013 and cost an estimated total of $6.3 billion dollars making it one of the largest public works projects in US history.

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