Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 17, 2017

The Golden Gate Bridge: What Holds It Up?

There is probably no bridge that’s been photographed more than the one in California that spans the Golden Strait between San Francisco and Marin County: the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Brad Nixon 4349 (640x484)

It’s massive, a stunning design in a dramatic setting. The Golden Gate abides. My overcast-day photo isn’t especially dramatic. I’m certain you’ve seen photos of the bridge shining in glorious California sunlight, wreathed in fog, shot from every possible angle. In 6-1/2 years of writing about California, though, I’ve never mentioned or shown a picture of one of my state’s most iconic sites. Here’s some background for your visit.

History and Context

Completed in 1937, the Golden Gate was the world’s longest suspension bridge main span until 1964. It is, if ever the phrase rang true, an engineering marvel, christened one of the “Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Engineers.

Golden Gate Bridge Facts:

Total length: 8,981 feet | Longest span: 4,200 feet | Width: 90 feet | Height: 746 feet

Golden Gate Bridge Design and Engineering

It’s a simple concept: Two cables anchored on either side of the 1-mile wide Golden Strait are held aloft by two steel towers. That carefully engineered, draping curve defines the bridge’s distinctive look and bears the weight of the suspension system, roadway and all the vehicle and foot traffic (yes, you can walk across it).

“Form follows function” says an old adage, and the Golden Gate exemplifies it.

That’s it: only two cables, each 36-3/8 inches (92.4 cm) in diameter. Here’s a photo of a cross section of cable displayed at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center* on the San Francisco side.

Golden Gate Brad Nixon 4344 (640x480)

When you look more closely, the cable isn’t simply one immense cylinder of steel.

Golden Gate Brad Nixon 4347 (640x480)

It’s comprised of 27,572 strands of steel, each one running the full 7,650 feet of the cable.

That’s what holds you up when you drive or walk across, and provides the enormous strength and flexibility for the suspension system.

The vertical lines descending from the main cables are referred to as “vertical suspender ropes,” and are also complex. Click here for some explanation.

These slivers of information won’t be the first thing that occurs to you when you regard the eye-popping, jaw-dropping out-and-out bodaciousness of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I have nothing to rival all those calendars, posters and spectacular photos you’ve already seen. I hope you get to spend time in San Francisco and the Bay Area. I know when you do, you’ll make it a point to see the bridge. Now you know what holds it up, leaving you to concentrate on shooting a truly memorable photo. Enjoy!

*To visit the Welcome Center, take the last exit before you start north across the bridge. There are other things to see there, including old gunnery emplacements and the 1938 Round House Cafe. The center is part of the widely distributed Golden Gate National Recreation Area of the U.S. National Park Service.

Have you seen it? What was your impression? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Golden Gate Bridge statistics courtesy Wikipedia.

That is my cue to mention that as I write (March 16), the president of the United States today unveiled his proposed budget for Fiscal 2018. It includes a draconian 12% cut for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which will impact the Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is a good time for all American travelers, outdoorsmen and women, hikers, campers and citizens who care about our environment, history and culture to call your representatives to let them know that you disagree. The amount of money to be saved (approximately $1.5 billion) during the following year is less than the U.S. military budget for a day. Thank you.

P.S. Those budget cuts will eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, in addition to a 31% budget reduction for the Environmental Protection Agency. In case you needed any additional motivation to call.



  1. Fascinating. I lived in Berkeley for three years, and spent an inordinate amount of time watching the fog move through, over, and beneath the bridge. I crossed it a few times, of course. It’s a beautiful thing, and this is a really interesting glimpse into its structure. I get intrigued by details, and you’ve done a great job with these.

    I tried to find the blog of a fellow I used to follow. He shut it down, and now I don’t remember the title. He was an electrician who worked on the bridge,doing everything from changing lightbulbs to troubleshooting other issues. His photos from the top of the towers were something to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • THAT would be an interesting job. Thanks.


  2. Excellent presentation!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: