History of the Golden Gate Bridge: 86 Years Old


This week we celebrate the 86th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. On May 27, 1937, the bridge opened to traffic after taking over five years to build. I remember asking my father when I was young:

“Why isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge golden?”

He didn’t have an answer other than his observation that it was expensive to paint.


Color of Golden Gate Bridge

He didn’t know that the steel for the bridge, which came from Bethlehem Steel foundries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, originally came coated with a red lead primer. Color studies by consulting architect Irving Morrow arrived upon what’s now become known as Golden Gate Bridge International Orange, a unique “red terra cotta” version of the International Orange standard. But there were other competitors, as pictured above. “Warm Grey” was a distant second choice. If you like the color, you can obtain it from Sherwin Williams, the supplier, as “Firewood” (color code SW 6328).


Name of Golden Gate Bridge

There is a reason the Golden Gate Bridge is not golden is because:

The area is not named after the bridge, and the bridge is named after the area.

The place where it is located is called the Golden Gate Strait. The “Golden Gate” signifies San Francisco Bay as the gateway to the goldfields where gold was discovered in North-central California at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848, resulting in a gold rush in 1849 (hence, the name of the San Francisco 49ers sports team.)

However, in 1846 Captain John C. Frémont, American explorer and Civil War officer, allegedly coined the term — referring to the area between San Francisco and Marin County — in an analogy to the “Golden Gate of Bosporus” (Turkey) as he visualized the rich cargoes from the Orient flowing through the strait.

His US government “1842, 1843–’44 Report” and map of his exploratory expeditions to the American West guided thousands of overland immigrants to the Oregon and California regions from  1845 to 1849. He subsequently became a millionaire during the Gold Rush.


golden gate bridge


Uniqueness of Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate BridgeThe mile-long expanse is the main north-south bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County in Northern California, along U.S. Route 101 (in some places called El Camino Real). It is the most photographed bridge in the world. When it opened in 1937, it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world.


History of Construction of Golden Gate Bridge

StraussA bridge was proposed to replace the ferry service between San Francisco and Marin County. It was thought to cost an estimated $100 million — about $2.3 billion today — and was not considered feasible. Joseph Strauss, engineer and poet, proposed that it could be built for $17 million. Local city authorities approved, pending input from others on the design.

It would take over a decade for Strauss to gain support and funding. Railroads opposed it as they owned the ferry concession, while the automobile industry supported it. While he was known as chief engineer, much credit goes to Charles Alton Ellis, though his work was not honored until 2012.


Cisco and the Golden Gate Bridge

The San Francisco Bay Area computer and networking company Cisco, which I used to work for, gets its name from San Francisco and its logo from the Golden Gate Bridge.

logo cisco history 500x263


Golden Gate Bridge in Movies

The Golden Gate Bridge is a famous landmark for films, from 1941’s Maltese Falcon to Vertigo in 1958 to the James Bond View to a Kill in 1985. A favorite motif in several of these movies is cars and buses being stranded amidst destruction:

  • Superman (1978)
  • The Abyss (1989)
  • Fantastic Four (2005)
  • X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
  • Godzilla (2014).


The Future of Golden Gate Bridge


The fact that Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet Academy is located in San Francisco — or at least will be in the 23rd century — means that the Golden Gate Bridge appears in several films and television shows.

Notable films:

  • Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • Star Trek (VII) Generations (1994)
  • Star Trek (the movie reboot, 2009)
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Notable T.V. shows:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Star Trek: Deep Space 9
  • Star Trek Voyager
  • Enterprise
  • Picard
  • Star Trek: Discovery


USS Enterprise


Indeed, a plaque on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise reads that the ship was constructed in the San Francisco Shipyards, like its nautical predecessors.



Kirk and SpockMay the Golden Gate Bridge live long and prosper.




Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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