Little Bits of History

Galloping Gertie

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 7, 2010

Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsing. (Photo by Barney Elliott; The Camera Shop)

November 7, 1940: The Tacoma Bridge over the Tacoma Narrows of Puget Sound in Washington collapses. The bridge was first suggested by the Northern Pacific Railroad company in 1889. By the mid-1920s there was serious interest in building it. Both Joseph B. Strauss who was the chief engineer on the Golden Gate Bridge and David B. Steinman, builder of the Mackinac Bridge submitted plans. Strauss met with civic leaders several times in 1929 but was fired by them in 1931 because he had not gained funding.

Funding remained problematic. The Washington State Toll Bridge Authority was created but it was noted that tolls alone could not finance the bridge. Both the US Army and Navy had bases in the area and they were looked to for financing. Washington State engineer Clark Eldridge petitioned for an $11 million “tried and true conventional bridge” to be built. However Leon Moisseiff, designer of the Golden Gate Bridge thought that he could economize. Eldridge’s design called for 25 feet deep girders supporting the bridge while Moisseiff’s design called for 8 foot supports. The cost of the scaled back design was $8 million.

The Moisseiff design was built and the bridge opened on July 1, 1940. It always had a longitudinal sway in the winds sweeping over Puget Sound. That meant the bridge swayed making hills and valleys across the bridge.

On this date, the winds were at 42 mph without appreciable gusting. Instead of the up and down movement, a torsional sway or rising and lowering from side to side, started. At the highest shift, the left sidewalk was 28 feet higher than the right side. The bridge began to sway with the left side lower and at the other end was right side lower, like wringing a washcloth. The bridge snapped in the middle and a 600 foot span fell into the Sound. The bridge was rebuilt incorporating the new knowledge of aerodynamics necessary to its construction and opened again October 14, 1950.

For an amazing video of the collapse, see this You Tube movie. It is a bit slow to start, but has an amazing finish.

“The surest foundation of a manufacturing concern is quality. After that, and a long way after, comes cost.” – Andrew Carnegie

“People forget how fast you did a job – but they remember how well you did it.” – Howard W. Newton

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent efforts.” – John Ruskin

“Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.” – J. C. Hare and A. W. Hare

Also on this day, in 1837 Elijah Parish Lovejoy was martyred for the abolitionist cause.

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