The Time When San Franciscans Opposed the Golden Gate Bridge

What is more iconic of San Francisco than the Golden Gate Bridge? In the city that attracts millions of tourists every year, the orange bridge is a symbol of the West, the optimism, the character of San Francisco, but also of the technology hotbed and the world’s innovation champions: Silicon Valley.

What seems self-evident to us today and we can’t visit San Francisco without having taken a look at and a selfie in front of the world’s most famous bridge, however, was not always so uncontroversial. On the contrary, if it had been up to the residents, the project would never have happened.

When the first designs for a bridge connecting San Francisco and Marin County appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in the early 1920s, it was immediately criticized. It was said to be a thing of technical impossibility, would be too expensive, would destroy the view, would hinder shipping and thus commerce, and above all, this ugly monstrosity would scare away tourists.

The most vocal and understandable opponents were representatives of the Pacific American Steamship Association, which represented the interests of ferry operators, among others.

(The) present plan for a bridge across the Golden Gate is a menace to our harbor that should be opposed by everyone who has the interests of San Francisco and its commerce at heart.

Pacific American Steamship Association, 1930

But farmers from Sonoma, north of San Francisco, also opposed the bridge. Not only that, they tried to prevent the creation of a company to operate the bridge.

More than 2,000 lawsuits were filed by residents, so much so that a judge was even specially dispatched from Northern California to deal exclusively with the lawsuits. Writers were particularly vocal. Well-known writers and influential journalists spoke out against the bridge because it would distort the perfect image of nature.

One must hope, for the credit of San Francisco, that the project will never be put through. When you have one of the most romantic approaches in all geography, why spoil it?”

Katherine Gerould in Harper’s Magazine

A bond to raise the then massive sum of $33.7 million to build the bridge was fiercely opposed. This constant back-and-forth delayed construction of the bridge, which could not begin until a decade after the initial proposals. Even a day before the vote to approve the bonds, Southern Pacific ferries ran newspaper and radio ads opposing the bonds.

However, all the protests did not help. The bond was overwhelmingly approved by the population and the bridge was inaugurated on May 27, 1937. Instead of the planned gray, the bridge was painted with the “International Orange” so well known today, a classic was born.

Nearly a century and billions of visitors later, we only chuckle at the objections of the ancients who objected. Except for the protests of the Southern Pacific ferries, which had to cease operations only shortly after the bridge opened, all other objections melted away.

We think differently today, and certainly don’t protest against a high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles, or a new train station in Stuttgart, or a tunnel between Denmark and Germany, or new wind turbines, or the Tesla factory in Berlin. Oh wait…

By the way, I write about these fears of the past and present in my book Future Angst with more stories from history.


Welche aktuellen Ängste prägen uns? Mit welchen Ängsten waren die Menschen in der Vergangenheit konfrontiert, als es die heutigen Technologien noch nicht gab? Warum mischen wir heute im Wettbewerb der Kulturen um neue Technologien nicht ganz vorne mit? Welche Maßnahmen müssen wir ergreifen, um neue Technologien nicht als etwas Beängstigendes und Feindseliges zu betrachten, sondern als ein Mittel zur Lösung der großen Probleme der Menschheit? Innovationsexperte Dr. Mario Herger stellt in „Future Angst“ die entscheidenden Fragen in Bezug auf Technologie und Fortschritt und zeigt professionelle und zukunftsweisende Lösungen auf. Mit seinem Appell „Design the Future“ bietet Herger einen unkonventionellen und transformativen Ansatz für ein neues, human geprägtes Mindset.

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