sea currents, frequent fogs, and high winds—and technical ones, especially the construction of earthquake-resistant piers in 100 feet of open water. The latter was solved by building elliptical concrete fenders, 300 feet long and 155 wide (92 by 48 meters), within which the 148,000-ton (134,500-tonne) concrete piers could be poured; rising 15 feet (4.6 meters) above high-water mark, the fenders also protect the piers from the onslaught of the sea. The piers and the approach trestles were completed by December 1934 and the 121-foot-wide (37-meter), 750-foot-high (230-meter) towers were standing a little over six months later. The steel sections for the towers, fabricated in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were sent via East Coast seaports through the Panama Canal to McClintic-Marshall’s yards in Alameda. Then they were carried by lighters to the site, lifted by cranes, and erected by teams of riggers.

Catwalks spanned the Golden Gate by July 1935, and John A. Roebling and Sons of New Jersey began spinning the two main cables from the San Francisco and Marin anchorages four months later. Each galvanized steel cable is 36.375 inches (920 millimeters) in diameter, comprising 61 strands of 452 wires. They were completed by March 1936, and the roadway steel was placed from June through November, allowing construction of the flexible in situ concrete road deck, finished by April 1937. The bridge was opened to pedestrian traffic on 27 May 1937 and to vehicles at noon the following day. It had been achieved ahead of schedule and under budget. An estimated 200,000 people walked over it on the first day, and a weeklong Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta celebrated the event with fireworks, parades, and other entertainment.

Further reading

Adams, Charles F. 1987. Heroes of the Golden Gate. Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books.

Zee, John van der. 1986. The Gate: The True Story of the Design and Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Grand Buddha

Leshan, China

Dàfó (Grand Buddha), the world’s largest figure of Buddha, provides tacit testimony to the engineering skills of medieval Chinese civilization. It is carved from the Xiluo Peak of Mount Lingyun, facing the town of Leshan in the Sichuan Province of the People’s Republic of China. Work began on the 229-foot-high (71-meter) seated figure in a.d. 713 and took 90 years to complete.


The Grand Buddha, Leshan, Sichuan Province, China, 713–803. The figure’s feet can be seen at the edges of the photograph.

Comparisons may give an idea of the ambitious scope of the project. Seated, the Grand Buddha is about 80 feet (25 meters) taller than the figure of the Statue of Liberty; were he standing, he would be over twice her height. His shoulders are 92 feet (28