The iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is famous for its distinctive orange vermilion color. But did you know that the bridge was originally planned to be painted with black and yellow stripes? In this article, we’ll explore the history behind the Golden Gate Bridge’s distinctive color scheme.
The Original Black and Yellow Striped Design
When plans for the Golden Gate Bridge were first drawn up in the 1920s, the original color scheme called for alternating vertical black and yellow stripes. This black and yellow design was commonly used for bridges at the time, as it increased visibility for passing ships in the foggy San Francisco Bay.
The original design specifications issued by Joseph Strauss, the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge project, mandated that the bridge be painted with black and yellow stripes. An example of this stripe pattern can be seen on the nearby San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, which was completed in 1936.
Why Orange was Chosen Instead
Though black and yellow were the original choice, the designers ultimately opted for orange vermilion instead. There were several reasons behind this decision:
- Orange provides better visibility – In the frequent fog of the San Francisco Bay, orange is more visible than black and yellow. This enhances safety for passing ships.
- Aesthetic appeal – The warm orange color was thought to be more pleasing to the eye than harsh black and yellow stripes.
- Complementary to the landscape – Orange complements the green hills and blue water surrounding the bridge.
- Distinctive identity – Orange makes the bridge stand out as an iconic San Francisco landmark.
The switch from black and yellow to orange was proposed by consulting architect Irving Morrow. Bridge engineer Joseph Strauss agreed to the change, realizing the orange would better suit the bridge’s environment.
The First Paint Job
When construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began on January 5, 1933, the initial paint job started with a primer coat of gray. The primer was intended to protect the steel from corrosion.
In 1935, painters started adding the orange vermilion topcoat over the gray primer. They used a quick-drying lead-based paint, which adhered well to the primer. To reach the entire 4,200 foot long bridge, painters had to be lowered in chairs suspended by ropes attached to the bridge cables.
It took around a year to complete the initial orange paint job on the entire bridge. When the bridge opened on May 27, 1937, visitors were awed by its vivid orange color contrasting with the blue water and green hills.
Ongoing Maintenance Painting
Painting the Golden Gate Bridge is an immense, multi-million dollar task that has been ongoing since 1937. Due to the bridge’s extreme conditions – salt, fog, and high winds – the bridge requires constant painting to protect the steel from corrosion.
Paint crews work year-round, moving systematically from one end of the bridge to the other. It takes around 10 years to repaint the entire 1.7 mile long bridge. Once one paint job is complete, the crews immediately start the cycle over again.
Over 20 different shades of orange have been used over the decades as paint technology has evolved. Today, the official color is called International Orange.
Fun Facts About the Golden Gate Bridge’s Color
- The original hue was a red lead primer covered with a quick-drying zinc silicate topcoat.
- During World War II, the bridge was dimmed at night as a security measure. The orange color helped camouflage it.
- Over 35 million gallons of paint have been used to coat the bridge since 1937.
- Crews have to contend with extreme weather conditions while painting, including wind gusts up to 70 mph.
- It’s estimated that there are at least 45 different shades of orange on the bridge where paint jobs have overlapped over the years.
|Year||Paint Color Used|
|1937||Red lead primer with zinc silicate orange topcoat|
|1955||Inorganic zinc silicate primer with vinyl topcoat|
|1965||Acrylic emulsion primer and topcoat|
As this table shows, the specific orange paint used on the Golden Gate Bridge has evolved over time as technology has advanced. But while the formula has changed, the iconic orange color has remained the same.
The Golden Gate Bridge stands as an awe-inspiring testament to human ingenuity and aesthetics. Though originally intended to be striped black and yellow, bridge engineers chose a distinctive orange color that would complement the bridge’s natural surroundings and withstand the elements. That memorable orange hue has become synonymous with the beauty and innovation of the Golden Gate Bridge.
So next time you’re visiting San Francisco or seeing images of this marvel, remember that the color was carefully chosen. The Golden Gate Bridge simply wouldn’t be the same without its iconic orange paint job.