Building the most photographed bridge in the world
Bank of America financed the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge at a time when the country was in the midst of an economic depression and no other banks would step forward.
When the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, the San Francisco Chronicle called it the "thirty-five million dollar steel harp." This famous and stunning achievement of civil engineering was funded by Bank of America. The 4,200-foot-long suspension bridge spans the Golden Gate Strait to connect San Francisco and Marin County. But in the decade leading up to the construction of the globally recognized landmark, it looked as if it was not to be.
When Cincinnati-born bridge engineer Joseph Strauss submitted a preliminary proposal for the bridge, the country was on the brink of a financial crisis that would culminate in the Great Depression. But that wasn't the only challenge. Strauss and his collaborators were opposed by many forces, including city officials, environmentalists, ferry operators and even members of the engineering community, who claimed it would be technically impossible to build such a bridge. Still, Strauss wasn't willing to give up easily. He got in touch with Amadeo Giannini.
A. P. Giannini, President of Bank of America, was legendary for his dedication to the development of the San Francisco region. A native of San Jose with a blue-collar background, Giannini believed that banks should lend more freely to working-class people, whom he believed to be fiscally responsible. Following the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of San Francisco, most banks closed up shop, but Giannini set up a makeshift desk and issued credit "on a handshake and a signature" to families and small businesses in immediate, desperate need. His investments built a foundation for San Francisco's economic recovery.
In 1932, when the Depression had deepened and nobody would buy bonds to fund the bridge's construction, Strauss asked Giannini for help. Strauss explained his long battle to convince the city’s leaders that the bridge would improve the San Francisco economy, not hurt it.
“If Bank of America does not buy these bonds, this bridge will not be built,” Strauss said.
“How long will this bridge last?” Giannini asked.
Strauss replied, “Forever.”
Giannini said, “California needs that bridge. We’ll buy the bonds.”
Bank of America bought $6 million worth of bonds, allowing the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge to get under way, and went on to lead the syndicate to purchase the entire issue of bonds. Without Giannini and Bank of America's assistance, it's unlikely that the Golden Gate Bridge would exist today.
Construction began on January 5, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. Strauss and his crew worked through strong tides, frequent storms and fogs and raging winds. They blasted rock 65 feet below the surface of the water to plant earthquake-proof foundations. Eleven men died during construction. Despite this, the Golden Gate Bridge had an impressive construction safety record overall.
In spite of all challenges, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in four years and on May 27, 1937, more than 200,000 people came to walk, run, roller-skate, dance or otherwise move across the mile-long bridge, seven miles above the water, to celebrate its opening. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt telegraphed the message that the bridge was open to vehicular traffic. The initial toll for the bridge was 50 cents each way.
The Golden Gate Bridge would remain the world's longest suspension bridge until 1964, when it was surpassed, by 60 feet, by New York City's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In February 1985, the one billionth car crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. As of today, more than 2 billion vehicles have traveled across the bridge since it opened. Frommers travel guide considers the Golden Gate Bridge "possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world."
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