The Golden Gate Bridge was painted International Orange when it first opened in 1937 and only touch-up of the lead-based paint was required until 1965. The paintwork is now acrylic, with a zinc primer, and is maintained by a chief painter, 28 painters and five assistants.
San Francisco – Fact Check

What do Steve Jobs and the Golden Gate Bridge have in common?

Photo by Jouko van der Kruijssen

San Francisco – Fact Check What do Steve Jobs and the Golden Gate Bridge have in common?

It would have been painted in black and yellow stripes if the US Navy had had its way, or a stark black and white if the city had given in to the Army. Luckily, the directors of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge listened to consulting architect Irving Morrow instead.

Jochem Wijnands
Jochem Wijnands Founder / photographer

“Orange vermilion is luminous, undergoes atmospheric changes with great beauty, is prominent without insistence, enhances the architectural scale to the utmost, and gives weight and substance,” he wrote enthusiastically in 1935.

The opening, only 80 years ago in 2016, was a defining moment for the city. Until then, San Francisco had been known for the Gold Rush, a devastating 1906 earthquake and its subsequent fire. Now it would be a luminous beacon for innovation and progress. In the decades that followed, the Bay Area nurtured cultural movements that would sweep the nation and the world, and that still guide the footsteps of the city’s 16 million annual visitors.

The Golden Gate Bridge was an idea as much as a feat of engineering. It was the first time the city had made a conscious attempt to muscle its way onto the world stage, to deliver something not just functional but inspirational. It is just a bridge in the same way that the iPhone is just a mobile phone. Both are crafted with a care that raises them far beyond the ordinary. Morrow’s justification for painting the bridge shocking orange, for instance, could have come straight from Apple founder Steve Jobs. “The color recommended is undoubtedly not the cheapest one that could be chosen,” he said. “But the margin of difference between the cheapest thing and the right thing is not sufficient to justify jeopardizing a project of this magnitude.”

Like Jobs, Morrow was a perfectionist. While the Bridge was still just scaffolding and raw steel, he was already specifying the exact position, angle and wattage of floodlights to showcase it in the dark: “Towers enveloped in a mellow glow at the base and at the tops practically disappearing into the night.” Morrow was also responsible for the strikingly modernist towers and the many art deco details visible on a leisurely bike ride across the Golden Gate, the only way to appreciate it properly.

His fellow designers were equally innovative. Structural engineer Leon Moisseiff experimented with an all-steel roadway that his “deflection theory” told him would remain flexible even over the bridge’s record-breaking 1,280-meter span. He was right – although his similar design for a crossing of the Tacoma Narrows in Washington succumbed almost immediately to wind-induced torsional flutter.

Looking for a Truly Wonderful hotel near the bridge? Our San Fran expert Juliette recommends this one! 

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In summer, rising hot air over the land in California draws in water-laden air from the Pacific Ocean, which turns to fog as it meets the currents along the coastline. "The Valley sucks, and The City blows,” they say here. Foghorns on the Golden Gate Bridge operate about two and a half hours a day, averaged over a year, but during the summer fog season they can sound for days at a time. Photo by Brandon Doran / Creative Commons

Brandon Doran

Brandon Doran

Nikon D90

Agency
Creative Commons
Aperture
ƒ/11
Exposure
40
ISO
200
Focal
24 mm

In summer, rising hot air over the land in California draws in water-laden air from the Pacific Ocean, which turns to fog as it meets the currents along the coastline. "The Valley sucks, and The City blows,” they say here. Foghorns on the Golden Gate Bridge operate about two and a half hours a day, averaged over a year, but during the summer fog season they can sound for days at a time.

Other stories about San Francisco

When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone at San Francisco’s 2007 Macworld convention he called it, with typical understatement "a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” It took $150 million to develop and Apple paid $1 million for the iphone.com domain name, but sold a million devices on its first weekend.

The Pioneering spirit that never died

What can you say about San Francisco, a city that shaped and continues to shape the world as we know it? The history of San Francisco is the promise of gold that brought settlers West, until they could go no further; the pioneering spirit has never died. The Flower Power generation, which originated here in the 1960s, shaped modern beliefs; a new generation is defining our virtual world through companies like as Apple and Facebook. In the history of San Francisco is our present: in its past, our future.