History and Trivia

George Washington Bridge: Spanning history

By BergenCounty.com staff    

The George Washington Bridge (GWB) took six years to construct and cost $59 million more than 80 years ago. It has become a vital link to the commerce and industry of the metropolitan region. After it opened in 1931, life in Bergen County was never the same.

When the bridge opened, its 3,500-foot-long center span was twice as long as any other in the country. In 1937, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge took over the honor of being the country's longest suspension bridge. But the GWB remains the busiest bridge in the world, accommodating nearly 100 million vehicles a year.<br/><br/><br/>
The record archives
When the bridge opened, its 3,500-foot-long center span was twice as long as any other in the country. In 1937, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge took over the honor of being the country's longest suspension bridge. But the GWB remains the busiest bridge in the world, accommodating nearly 100 million vehicles a year.


The GWB can boast display of the largest free-flying flag in the world at 60 by 90 feet.<br/><br/><br/>
Marko Georgiev/staff photographer
The GWB can boast display of the largest free-flying flag in the world at 60 by 90 feet.


On Oct. 24, 1931, more than 30,000 people gathered to witness the dedication of the George Washington Bridge, hosted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York, and New Jersey Governor Morgan F. Larson. The GWB set records on its opening day on Oct. 25: 7,098 autos crossed in a single hour, setting a world record. According to a Bergen Evening Record article, 57,788 cars, 35,580 pedestrians and a man on a horse named “Rubio” crossed the bridge that day. <br/><br/><br/>
The record archives
On Oct. 24, 1931, more than 30,000 people gathered to witness the dedication of the George Washington Bridge, hosted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York, and New Jersey Governor Morgan F. Larson. The GWB set records on its opening day on Oct. 25: 7,098 autos crossed in a single hour, setting a world record. According to a Bergen Evening Record article, 57,788 cars, 35,580 pedestrians and a man on a horse named “Rubio” crossed the bridge that day.


In 1906, the governors of New York and New Jersey appointed an Interstate Bridge Commission to develop plans for one or more Hudson River crossings. By 1910, the commission had recommended connecting Fort Lee and Fort Washington, citing several benefits to this location: It would minimize the bridge’s length; the bedrock at that site would minimize construction; and the height from the cliffs would provide enough clearance for ships, without the need for extensive approaches. Another advantage was the diversion of traffic from midtown Manhattan. <br/><br/><br/>
photo courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park - NJ Section
In 1906, the governors of New York and New Jersey appointed an Interstate Bridge Commission to develop plans for one or more Hudson River crossings. By 1910, the commission had recommended connecting Fort Lee and Fort Washington, citing several benefits to this location: It would minimize the bridge’s length; the bedrock at that site would minimize construction; and the height from the cliffs would provide enough clearance for ships, without the need for extensive approaches. Another advantage was the diversion of traffic from midtown Manhattan.


Gustav Lindenthal, one of the great bridge builders of the early 20th century, was at work with another idea: He wanted to link New Jersey to mid-town Manhattan to connect rails in New Jersey with those in New York City and New England. But Lindenthal’s protege, Othmar Ammann, opposed his mentor’s idea, and joined forces with the Interstate Bridge Commission. With the backing of newly elected New Jersey Gov. George Silzer, Ammann’s plan garnered support of the commission, as well as the fledgling Port Authority. <br/><br/><br/>
photo courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park - NJ Section
Gustav Lindenthal, one of the great bridge builders of the early 20th century, was at work with another idea: He wanted to link New Jersey to mid-town Manhattan to connect rails in New Jersey with those in New York City and New England. But Lindenthal’s protege, Othmar Ammann, opposed his mentor’s idea, and joined forces with the Interstate Bridge Commission. With the backing of newly elected New Jersey Gov. George Silzer, Ammann’s plan garnered support of the commission, as well as the fledgling Port Authority.


John Borg, a Port Authority board member and the publisher of the Bergen Evening Record, favored the Fort Lee location, using the newspaper to garner public support. In 1925, the Port Authority designated Ammann the master bridge designer and chief engineer of the project. <br/><br/><br/>
photo courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park - NJ Section
John Borg, a Port Authority board member and the publisher of the Bergen Evening Record, favored the Fort Lee location, using the newspaper to garner public support. In 1925, the Port Authority designated Ammann the master bridge designer and chief engineer of the project.


Gothic, baroque and art deco tower designs had been submitted by previous architects attached to the project. Ammann originally envisioned the towers clad in pink granite. Ultimately, with economic pressures from the Great Depression, a decision was made to leave the steel grids exposed – a clean, simple design that many people preferred anyway. <br/><br/><br/>
photo courtesy of engineering world
Gothic, baroque and art deco tower designs had been submitted by previous architects attached to the project. Ammann originally envisioned the towers clad in pink granite. Ultimately, with economic pressures from the Great Depression, a decision was made to leave the steel grids exposed – a clean, simple design that many people preferred anyway.


In 1930, a year before the bridge opened, the Port Authority dropped the proposed name “Hudson River Bridge” in favor of the George Washington Memorial Bridge, later shortened to the George Washington Bridge. Other names had been considered, including Fort Lee Bridge, Columbus Bridge, the John Borg Bridge, and Palisades Bridge. Unofficial submissions included Gate of Paradise, Bridge of Prosperity, Pride of the Nation and Mother’s Bridge. <br/><br/><br/>
photo courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park - NJ Section
In 1930, a year before the bridge opened, the Port Authority dropped the proposed name “Hudson River Bridge” in favor of the George Washington Memorial Bridge, later shortened to the George Washington Bridge. Other names had been considered, including Fort Lee Bridge, Columbus Bridge, the John Borg Bridge, and Palisades Bridge. Unofficial submissions included Gate of Paradise, Bridge of Prosperity, Pride of the Nation and Mother’s Bridge.


Two lanes were added to the original six on the upper deck when the lower level - itself six lanes - was constructed in 1962. <br/><br/><br/>
Two lanes were added to the original six on the upper deck when the lower level - itself six lanes - was constructed in 1962.


 The upper-deck median barrier was also added in 1962. The Bergen-Passaic Expressway feeder roads (including parts of I-95 and I-80) had been completed by 1962 as part of a $60 million expansion project sponsored by the Port Authority. The one-way toll system went into effect in 1970 (previously, tolls were paid both ways.) <br/><br/><br/>
the record archives
The upper-deck median barrier was also added in 1962. The Bergen-Passaic Expressway feeder roads (including parts of I-95 and I-80) had been completed by 1962 as part of a $60 million expansion project sponsored by the Port Authority. The one-way toll system went into effect in 1970 (previously, tolls were paid both ways.)


”It’s the most beautiful bridge in the world. It gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seed of grace in the disordered city.” - Famed Swiss architect Le Corbusier, commenting on the GWB <br/><br/><br/>
Beth Balbierz/the record
”It’s the most beautiful bridge in the world. It gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seed of grace in the disordered city.” - Famed Swiss architect Le Corbusier, commenting on the GWB


The structure’s namesake, the “father of our country,” actually crossed the waterway near this point more than two centuries ago, in a rowboat. Gen. Washington and his American forces used both Fort Lee and Fort Washington in 1776 as fortified bases in his unsuccessful attempt to deter the British occupation of New York City. <br/><br/><br/>
photo courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park - NJ Section
The structure’s namesake, the “father of our country,” actually crossed the waterway near this point more than two centuries ago, in a rowboat. Gen. Washington and his American forces used both Fort Lee and Fort Washington in 1776 as fortified bases in his unsuccessful attempt to deter the British occupation of New York City.


In 1943 the bridge made its film debut in Ball of Fire, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Other movies include How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), The In-Laws (1979), Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) and Copland (1997). <br/><br/><br/>
The record archives
In 1943 the bridge made its film debut in Ball of Fire, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Other movies include How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), The In-Laws (1979), Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) and Copland (1997).


The GWB’s two giant towers are constructed from 43,000 tons of steel, and top out at 600 feet. Four giant cables, each 3 feet in diameter, hold the span in place. Each cable on the bridge contains 26,424 wires, every one of them thinner than a pencil. Stretched out, these wires would reach nearly halfway to the moon. The necklace lights on the cables consist of 148 mercury-vapor lights, added in 1964 for the World’s Fair.
Dave Frieder for The Record
The GWB’s two giant towers are constructed from 43,000 tons of steel, and top out at 600 feet. Four giant cables, each 3 feet in diameter, hold the span in place. Each cable on the bridge contains 26,424 wires, every one of them thinner than a pencil. Stretched out, these wires would reach nearly halfway to the moon. The necklace lights on the cables consist of 148 mercury-vapor lights, added in 1964 for the World’s Fair.
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