Joseph Strauss: Bridging the Gap

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Bridges are one of the most significant creations by mankind, which has help saved a lot of time and effected the economy to a largely. This one creation is a literal example for creating your own path when you can find no other way, that it is we who can make our destiny, rather than just being the consequences. Bridges predates back to 3000 years, the Roman Arch.

Until the 18th Century most of the bridges that were built were built using stones, chiselled granites or concrete, but with the industrial revolution in the 1760’s, leading to new manufacturing processes and an idea conceived by Thomas Farnolls Pritchard the world’s first Iron bridge was completely built, and then came the construction of the world’s first suspension bridge, Jacob’s Creek Bridge in 1801.

With these inventions and further advancements, it lead to the development of The Golden Gate Bridge, the most advanced bridge constructed during its time, initially proposed in 1872, crossing the Golden Gate in the San Francisco Bay, the construction however began much later because of the war period and finally during The Great Depression in the 1930s the city officials and the military caved in and the bridge was constructed and inaugurated in 1937.

The key figure behind the construction of this bridge was Joseph Strauss, born in Cincinnati, Ohio just ten years after the Civil War to an artistic family of German Ancestry. His mother was a pianist and his father Raphael Strauss a painter and a writer. As a young boy he wanted to become an artist more like his mother and because of his personality. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in Civil Engineering where he served both as the class president and the class poet.

At the University he developed lifelong interests. He continued writing poetry, but was interested mainly in the study of commerce. He was interested in joining the college football team, but he got heavily injured during the tryouts and was sent to the infirmary to recover, where he gazed out of the window at the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, and this fascinated him and drew him closer to the idea of creation of bridges.

After graduation he joined a firm specialised in making bridges for Ralph Modjeski, which he left when Ralph rejected his idea of using cheap concrete counterweights instead of iron counterweights in the construction of bascule bridges. He started his own firm Strauss Bascule Bridge Company of Chicago, revolutionizing the construction of bascule bridges.

He helped with the construction of over 400 draw bridges across US, but his dream remained, “The biggest thing of its kind that man could ever build.” In 1919, he was approached to build the Golden Gate Bridge. He spent over a decade campaigning for the bridge but faced enormous opposition and finally in the November of 1930, the project received a green light.

As chief engineer he overcame many obstacles. He had to find the funding and the support from the public as well as the US military. Concerned with the safety of his workers he demanded that a net be installed beneath the bridge, this saved 19 lives during the construction of the bridge.

He went through many personal problems of his own under the pressure, alienated his family and also fired the brains behind the design of the bridge Charles Alton Ellis during the construction, whose work wasn’t credited until the late 1940’s.

Joseph Strauss died a year later, after the construction of the bridge in 1937, but before his death he returned back to his first love, poetry, and wrote his most renowned poem “At last, the mighty task is done.”

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