The history of San Francisco's landmark Golden Gate Bridge as it turns 80

PHOTO: The newly completed Golden Gate Bridge at night waiting for its grand opening in two more days, on May 25, 1937, in San Francisco. PlayUnderwood Archives/Getty Images
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The time was May 1937. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, after winning reelection to a second term. German air ship The Hindenburg had burst into flames over New Jersey, killing 35 people, and the Spanish Civil War was raging across the ocean.

The number one song on the radio was "You Can't Take That Away From Me" by Fred Astaire and the biggest blockbuster movie that year would be Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Amidst all that, a huge infrastructure project that promised to be a feat of engineering was finally about to debut after four years of work: The Golden Gate Bridge.

Why the bridge was built

Experts at the time determined that a bridge was needed in San Francisco, since it was the largest American city still using mostly ferry boats.

Marin County across the San Francisco Bay also represented a new area where the bustling city that was running out of space could expand business and housing.

They said it couldn't be done

But many people said building a bridge that would span the 6,700-foot strait would be impossible. That area of the bay often has sustained winds of about 60 mph, the rough, swirling waves from the Pacific Ocean below and a channel that runs 335 feet deep.

"The bridge is a symbol of hard work, determination, and most of all, the power of grit to create a better future," Priya Clemens, director of public affairs for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, told ABC News. "For decades, people said a Bridge could not be built across the Golden Gate Strait."

PHOTO: Heavy fog at sunset surrounds the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Jan. 27, 2014.
SLIDESHOW: The Golden Gate Bridge through the years

"But an engineer saw a way to create this bridge, the region came together to fund it and workers put their blood, sweat and tears into building it," Clemens added. "Turning this dream into a reality opened the way for commerce and travel to expand in a way that could never have happened without the grit to push that vision forward."

San Francisco's city engineer Michael M. O'Shaughnessy teamed up with Joseph B. Strauss to come up with a plan for the bridge. Together, they formed a board of consultants filled with the best bridge engineers of the day from around the country.

Impressive bridge spans the strait

Construction started on Jan. 5, 1933 and didn't finish until April 19, 1937. The product was the $35 million bridge in all its glory -- completed ahead of schedule and $1.3 million under budget.

On May 27, 1937, the bridge-opening festivities began. The mayor, along with many of the engineers and some beauty queens rode in a motorcade across the roadway. On May 28, 1937, President Roosevelt pushed a button all the way across the country in Washington D.C. to allow traffic to start crossing the bridge.

PHOTO: A suicide prevention sign is posted at the Golden Gate Bridge, on April 13, 2017, in San Francisco. Local officials gathered Thursday at the orange-red span to mark the beginning of work to line both sides of the bridge with steel netting.Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal via AP Photo
A suicide prevention sign is posted at the Golden Gate Bridge, on April 13, 2017, in San Francisco. Local officials gathered Thursday at the orange-red span to mark the beginning of work to line both sides of the bridge with steel netting.

Standing at 746 feet high, the 8,981-foot-long bridge consists of two main towers fixed in several tons of concrete on each end. The road is held up by two suspension cables which have 27,572 wire strands each, equal to about 80,000 miles of wire. Engineers said about 1.2 million rivets were used on the bridge.

Until 1964, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was opened in New York.

More than 110,000 vehicles cross the 90-foot-wide bridge daily.

The famous shade of orange-red

The color of the bridge is notable for several reasons.

The bridge's raw steel was actually coated with a red lead primer when it was made in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. As the bridge was being assembled, one of the architects consulting did a study and found the color worked well with the landscape. The color is an orange vermilion called "international orange," which the original committee felt it contrasted well against the sky and ocean.

"International orange" is used on more than just the Golden Gate Bridge. Many people may recognize it as a color commonly used by the aerospace industry since it distinguishes structures from their surroundings.

"[The Golden Gate Bridge's] color that moves and molds itself into the great beauty and contours of the hill -– let me hope that the color will remain the red terracotta because it adds to the structural grace and because it adds to the great beauty and the colorful symphony of the hills —- and it is because of this structural simplicity that carries to you my message of admiration," Italian American sculptor Beniamino Benvenuto Bufano told consulting architect of the Golden Gate Bridge, Irving Morrow.

The color and prominence against the San Francisco skyline contributes to why it's one of the most photographed bridges in the world.

Famous site for a depressing act

But for some, the bridge is not a symbol of pride, but instead, a painful memory.

Nearly the entire time the bridge has been open, it has been a common destination for suicide. In 2016 alone, 39 people jumped from the bridge. Authorities and bystanders were able to stop 184 more from the same fate, according to Marin County.

For decades, the haunting statistics have compelled lawmakers and residents to continue searching for a deterrent that would fit the bridge's engineering requirements. In April 2017, construction began on a $200-million stainless steel platform that would surround the bridge -- 20 feet below the bridge's deck and extending 20 feet from the bridge. The bridge's deck is about 245 feet above the water below. The platform is expected to be completed in 2021.

This platform will provide a "critical second chance, maybe more than that" for those acting on "impulsive thoughts," Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said during the commemoration ceremony in April. "People would say to us, 'Isn’t that a lot of money for a barrier? For a net?' And I would say, ‘No it’s not a lot of money for a life. For all of these lives.'"

According to Golden Gate officials, the platform will catch anyone who jumps and will be sloped and slightly collapse when a person hits it. Anyone who lands in the net will likely need assistance to get out, which will be the job of city rescue workers. The platform, since it is a hard mesh made out of stainless steel, will not cushion the person's fall though and will most likely badly injure the person -- possibly even breaking some of their bones.

Many platform systems similar to this one have been used around the globe, but none as expansive.

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