Tacoma Narrows Bridge history - Bridge timeline

Spanning Time: A Chronology of Tacoma Narrows Bridges History


On May 20th, Archibald Menzies, botanist with the expedition of Captain George Vancouver, on passing through the Narrows notes the "rapid" and "strong" tide.


John G. Shindler, a rancher traveling through the Narrows on Ed Lorenz's steamboat, declares "some day you will see a bridge over these Narrows." Lorenz later notes, "We all thought Shindler was crazy." [Tacoma Times, September 12, 1939]


A railroad crossing (probably a trestle, rather than a bridge) at the Narrows is briefly contemplated by the Northern Pacific Railroad. A clerk in the NP Land Department named George Eaton proposes the link between Tacoma (the terminus of the transcontinental line) and Port Orchard, site of a proposed Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.


Dec. The Federated Improvement Clubs of Tacoma launch a concerted campaign for a Narrows Bridge, requesting support from civic organizations in surrounding communities. The proposed bridge would span the Narrows between Point Defiance and the Gig Harbor area. In late December C. F. Mason, a realtor and President of the Federated Improvement Clubs tells press that the group has been working on the project "for some months."


Llewellyn Evans, superintendent of Tacoma City Utilities Department and president of the local Good Roads Association, receives endorsement of Tacoma Chamber of Commerce to begin a campaign for a Narrows bridge.

Pierce County grants a 10-year contract (including a guarantee of immunity from competition) for ferry service across the Narrows to Mitchell Skansie, who organized the Washington Navigation Co. in 1927.


The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce appoints John Baker Chairman of a committee to guide the effort to build a bridge over the Narrows.

J. F. Hickey, President of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, tells the Tacoma Times, "Within a few weeks a survey will be underway and ... shortly after January we will know whether the immediate and future business of a large portion of the Olympic territory will, hereafter, drain into Tacoma, as a result of this important connecting link."

June. The Roads Committee of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce estimates that a bridge over the Narrows will cost an estimated $3 million to $10 million. Tacoma newspapers provide helpful publicity and editorial support.

Sept. J. B. Strauss, noted bridge engineer from Chicago (and later builder of the Golden Gate Bridge), visits regarding proposed Narrows Bridge

Nov. H. H. Meyers of the New York-San Francisco Development Co. visits to discuss the proposed bridge. Meyers estimates the bridge could cost $7 million to $15 million.


Aug. Charles A. Cook, a realtor and civic activist, proposes that Pierce County build a steel cantilever bridge for the Narrows. Cook suggests a span similar to the Carquinez Strait Bridge, a 4,500 foot span costing $8 million then under construction about 20 miles north of Berkeley, California.

Nov. Tacoma Chamber of Commerce hires noted bridge architect David B. Steinman of the New York firm Robinson and Steinman to conduct preliminary work for the proposed bridge. Steinman visits the city and over the next two years and spends $5,000 on a preliminary survey, layout and designs, estimates of traffic, architectural drawings and reports.

Tacoma's 6th Avenue Commercial Club rallies public support for the proposed bridge.

Survey work begins and soundings are taken in the Narrows.

Dec. The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce approves proposed legislation to provide a state franchise for building a bridge at the Narrows. City of Tacoma leaders and Pierce County Board of Commissioners formally ask Washington State officials to construct a Narrows bridge.


Feb. The Washington State Legislature passes a law authorizing a Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Mar. Architect David B. Steinman makes a second visit to Tacoma. A proposed bridge design by Steinman, using a photo of the Narrows by M D. Boland, appears in local newspapers (March 5, 1929). Steinman's proposed suspension bridge would measure 4,944 feet in length with towers rising 670 feet above the Narrows. The bridge design features a 2,400-foot center span, two side spans of 912 feet and another of 720 on the west side connecting to the Peninsula. Steinman estimates cost of the suspension bridge will be $9 million.


Tacoma Chamber of Commerce decides that David Steinman's firm is "not sufficiently active" in obtaining financing for the Narrows Bridge and asks Steinman to cancel their agreement. Steinman decides the estimated revenues from traffic tolls would be too low to justify building the bridge.

Jan. Tacoma City engineers propose a steel cantilever truss bridge that would carry railroad traffic as well as motor vehicles and pedestrians. The bridge, composed of five spans, would cost an estimated $12 million. The bridge plans call for five spans on four piers, with a 54-foot wide roadway allowing two lanes for highway traffic and a railroad track in the center.


Nov. The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce signs a contract with Elbert M. Chandler of Olympia to build a bridge at the Narrows. The proposed bridge would have a 1,200-foot central span, a vertical clearance of at least 196 feet, a deck with a two-lane highway 24 feet wide and costing not more than $3 million. Chandler requests a loan from the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The loan would be repaid by tolls collected from bridge users. The RFC refuses funding to buy the ferry system, owned by Mitchell Skansie.

Leon F. Moisseiff, consulting bridge engineer with Moisseiff & Associates of New York, reviews Chandler's proposal and reports the bridge is feasible.

Dec. Chandler's plan calls for a 7,000-foot long steel cantilever bridge with a 1,200-foot central span and six spans of about 600 feet each (plus approaches). The bridge will have 10 piers, two of them on land, two out of water at low tide, and six piers in about 150 feet of water on either side of the steel cantilever.


Nov. The U. S. Navy and Army Departments support the proposed Narrows Bridge, advocating federal approval because of the military value of the project as a connecting link between the Bremerton Naval Shipyard and Fort Lewis.


Two Tacoma congressmen, Homer T. Bone, U. S. Senator, and Wesley L. Lloyd, U. S. Representative, introduce legislation in Congress to provide federal funds for building a suspension bridge at the Narrows.

Encouraged by creation of the Public Works Agency (PWA) which will provide federal funds under President Roosevelt's "New Deal" for public major construction projects, Pierce County government leaders take renewed hope and apply for a grant to build the Narrows Bridge (Chandler's plan). But, the federal bureaucracy takes no action.


Jan. The "Narrows Bridge Gang," a coalition of Tacoma community groups and businessmen, headed by Wallace Morrisette, begins a statewide letter writing campaign to persuade President Roosevelt to support PWA approval of a Narrows Bridge.

The U.S. War Department approves a revised application by Pierce County Commissioners for a bridge at the Tacoma Narrows. The new plans call for a suspension bridge (instead of the previously planned cantilever type). Pierce County officials prepare an application for financing the $4 million bridge with 45% to come from a PWA grant and the remaining 55% to be paid for by Pierce County public utility bonds. Financing costs include funds to purchase the existing ferry system.

Mar. After three months of negotiations, Elbert Chandler and other private firms with an investment in the Narrows Bridge planning, sell their interest to Proctor & Gamble, engineers, of New York.

Tacoma newspapers report that the New York engineering firm of Proctor & Gamble have prepared preliminary plans for a suspension bridge at the Narrows to cost $4,089,091. The 4,944-foot long bridge features a suspended center span of 2,400 feet and two side spans of 912 feet each.


Jan. The Washington State Legislature passes a law creating the Washington State Toll Bridge Authority (WSTBA), patterned after the California law that led to the Golden Gate Bridge and others. The legislature appropriates $25,000 to study the Tacoma-Pierce County request to build a bridge across the Narrows. Pierce County transfers its application for constructing a bridge to the WSTBA.

Oct. Bridge boosters in Tacoma present a pamphlet on the proposed Narrows Bridge to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is visiting the city.


May Tacoma Field is deeded to the U.S. government by Pierce County and becomes McChord Field. Construction project of $5 million to improve the air base begins in late summer and employs some 2,000 men.

WSTBA submits an amended application to the federal PWA and applies to the RFC for a loan. The revised application includes a preliminary layout design by Clark Eldridge for the suspension bridge.

June Public Works Administration grants funds for the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, marking the culmination of over 14 years of community efforts. PWA award is conditional on the WSTBA hiring outside consultants for the bridge design. Consultant for the superstructure is Leon Moisseiff of New York; consultants for the substructure are Moran & Proctor of New York.

Aug. Leon Moisseiff completes revision of drawings for 1940 Narrows Bridge.

Sept. Construction bids are opened. Low bid for building the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is by the Pacific Bridge Co. in the amount of $5,594,730.40. Associate contractor supplying steel was the Bethlehem Steel Co. Wire is supplied by John A. Roebling Sons Co. of New York.

Nov. Start of construction on first Narrows Bridge. Official "start date" according to the construction contract is two days later

Official contract start date to build the Narrows Bridge.

Dec. Start of construction for west pier (pier 4)


Jan. First 570-ton anchor for the west pier is dumped into the Narrows.

Feb. Caisson anchors placed for west pier (pier 4).

Mar. Caisson for the west pier (pier 4) arrives at the bridge site.

First anchor is secured to west caisson.

April Excavation begins for east anchorage.

May Excavation begins for west anchorage.

Caisson for west pier (pier 4) landed on bottom of Narrows.

Excavation completed for east anchorage.

Caisson for east pier (pier 5) arrives at the bridge site. Excavation completed for east anchorage.

Excavation completed for west anchorage.

West pier (pier 4) secured to all anchors and grounded on bottom of Narrows.

June East pier (pier 5) secured to all anchors and grounded on bottom of Narrows.

July West pier (pier 4) completed and ready for tower steel.

Cable anchor bars completed for east anchorage; work on anchorage is suspended pending completion of cable spinning.

Cable anchor bars completed in pending completion of cable spinning.

Aug. Bethlehem Steel begins erection of west tower (tower 4).

Sept. Completion of pier construction on 1940 Narrows bridge, with completion of east pier (pier 5).

Oct. Catwalks and structures for cable spinning are started.

Nov. Bethlehem Steel completes the second tower, Tower 5.

Parker Painting Co., subcontractor for painting the bridge, begins painting operations, sand blasting and painting the outside of the west tower (tower 5).

At 7:45 a.m. the strongest earthquake in decades shakes the region. The jolt of 6.2 magnitude, with an epicenter some 6 miles south of Bremerton, rumbles and shakes the Narrows Bridge. Engineers happily report no damage to the structure.


Jan. Cable spinning begins.

Cable spinning completed.

Mar. First 100-foot section of steel roadway swings into place.

Apr. First strip of approach roadway concrete paving poured.

Painting of main cables, suspenders and fittings begins by sub-contractor Fisher & White Co. of Seattle.

May Completion of steel floor system (girders, beams and stringers); completion rate was 200 feet per day. About this time, riveters and other workmen notice the "bounce," or "galloping" of the bridge. Some chew on lemons to combat nausea.

May & June Completion of concrete pouring of roadway.

Completion of concrete pouring for center of roadway, at 300 feet per day.

Four hydraulic jacks are installed to act as shock absorbers, as engineers hope to take the "bounce" out of the bridge. They have no effect.

June Catwalks dismantled (June 10-21).

Only three days before official completion—and public opening—of the Narrows Bridge, the first and only death during construction occurs when carpenter Fred Wilde stumbles and falls 12 feet.

A lucky bridge worker falls 190 feet into the Narrows and survives. Pete Kreller, a 26-year old painter, tumbled into the Narrows and sustained relatively minor injuries. Bridge engineers told Kreller that his fall lasted 4 seconds and he reached a speed of 60 miles per hour.

Completion of concrete roadway, sidewalks and curbs on suspended structure.

July Official opening ceremonies for 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Construction time was 19 months. Engineers announce that there is nothing dangerous in the bridge's "bounce."

The first airplane pilot to defy the obvious dangers flies under the bridge.

July - Sept. The Narrows Bridge's roadway sometimes "bounces" in a wind as light as 4 miles per hour. Waves in size ranging from 1 to 5 feet (a total rise and fall of 2 to 10 feet) are common. In a couple of extreme cases, waves 10 feet (a total rise and fall of 20 feet) are experienced, making some motorists "seasick."

Sept. The State Toll Bridge Authority hires Professor F. B. Farquharson to conduct studies on a scale model of the bridge in a wind tunnel at the University of Washington's Engineering Experiment Station to determine the cause of and remedies for Gertie's "bounce." Farquharson, aided by his students, built an 8-foot long scale model of the bridge' deck at a cost of $20,000.

Sept. Bridge painter Hugh Meiklejohn is killed by a falling bucket of paint during final paint work on the bridge.

Oct. Completion of painting (3 coats of green) for the Narrows Bridge. Total paint required was 5,800 gallons. Total painting payroll was 37,200 hours. Total steel painted was 13,000 tons.

Bridge engineers add temporary "tie-down" cables to the side spans to try to reduce Gertie's "bounce." Farquharson and state bridge engineers believe they have the problem solved.

Nov. A tie-down cable on the east side span breaks in a high wind when Gertie begins to "gallop." Workmen immediately replace the cable.

Farquharson completes wind tunnel studies of the Narrows Bridge using a 54-foot long scale model. Farquharson discovers a twisting motion that could potentially destroy the span. Farquharson tells the Toll Bridge Authority that the probable cause of Gertie's "ripple" is the solid stiffening girders, which catch the wind and make the bridge susceptible to aerodynamic forces. State authorities begin drafting a contract to have wind deflectors installed on the bridge.

Nov 7. "Galloping Gertie," collapses.

7:30 a.m. The wind measures 38 miles per hour. At 9:30 wind speed measures 42 miles per hour. The bridge was undulating, "galloping," with several waves of 2 to 5 feet high.

10:03 a.m Suddenly, the roadway begins a "lateral twisting motion." At first small, by 10:07 the movement is gigantic, tilting the roadway up to 28 feet on one side then the other, at an angle up to 45 degrees.

10:30 a.m. A large chunk of concrete drops and falls from a section on the west side of the center span.

11:02 a.m. A 600-foot long section of roadway in the eastern half of the center span (the "Gig Harbor quarter point") of the heaving bridge breaks free and falls into the Narrows.

11:08 a.m Final section of roadway falls into the Narrows.

Nov. First dismantling and salvage operations begin.

Dec. Insurance agent Hallet R. French of Seattle is arrested for grand larceny after pocketing premiums for an $800,000 policy for the State on the Narrows Bridge. French's trial is set for February 1941.

Contract for removal of the remaining superstructure of the 1940 Narrows Bridge is awarded to J. H. Pomeroy & Co.


Feb. Hallet R. French is sentenced to 15 years in the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He will serve two years, then be released for "good behavior." Hallet's next job is at a shipyard in Seattle.

Mar. Washington State files insurance claim for $5,200,000

Isaac F. Stern of Chicago appointed on a 3-man arbitration board to represent the insurance underwriters.

Final report issued by the "Carmody Board," the Board of Engineers appointed by the Federal Works Agency.

Apr. Clark Eldridge resigns as Bridge Engineer from the State Highway Department. He takes a position with the U. S. Navy on Guam.

June The insurance underwriters for the 1940 Narrows Bridge file their report. The piers, cables, and towers all could be salvaged and reused, they claim, and offer the State a settlement of $1.8 million.

The State's Narrows Bridge loss investigation board files its report, claiming the bridge was virtually a total loss, except for the piers, and the total claim is $4,297,098.

Aug. The State and 22 insurance companies agree on a settlement of $4 million for the near-total loss of the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Sept. Start of trial on insurance claim of total loss on Narrows Bridge.

Start of dismantling of the bridge's towers.


Aug. Contract for removal of the cables and towers of the 1940 Narrows Bridge is awarded to Philip Murphy and Woodworth Co.

Nov. Salvage of steel cables begins.

Dec. Insurance embezzler Hallet French, recently released after serving two years at Walla Walla State Penitentiary, is working at a Seattle shipyard.

Mar. Salvage and dismantling of first Narrows Bridge is completed, after almost 29 months. The Toll Bridge Authority paid $646,661 for the salvage operation, which brought a meager return of $295,726 for 7,000 tons of scrap steel. The net cost for the operation was $350,93

Leon Moisseiff, designer of the 1940 Narrows Bridge, dies of heart failure in New York.


Jun. Design for new Narrows Bridge is adopted by Washington State Toll Bridge Authority


Mar. Governor Mon G. Wallgren announces that revised plans for the new Narrows Bridge have been finalized and that negotiations for insurance on the span are opened.

Apr. Revised designs for the Narrows Bridge are approved. The projected cost is estimated at $8.5 million for construction over 22 months.


Jan. An independent consulting firm (Modjeski & Masters of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) confirms that the piers for the 1940 Narrows Bridge will meet all requirements for the proposed 1950 span.

Apr. Governor Wallgren announces that insurance for the bridge has been arranged, with 100 companies participating. Final designs for the new bridge are completed. Models are used to verify soundness of the design aerodynamically.

Aug. The State requests bids for the new bridge. Now, the cost is up to $11.2 million.

Bids for construction of the bridge are opened. Contracts are awarded to Bethlehem Pacific Coast Steel Corp. with a bid of $8,263,904.13 for the superstructure, and for the cable work to John A. Roebling Sons Co. of San Francisco with a bid of $2,932,681.27. However, financing is not yet arranged and the start of construction is delayed.

Dec. The State Toll Bridge Authority offers a bond issue of $14 million to finance bridge construction.


Mar. Bond financing of $14 million for construction is completed. In the next two weeks contracts for building the bridge were awarded. Construction began.

Mar. & Apr. Contracts are let for construction of the replacement Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The primary contractors are Bethlehem Pacific Coast Steel Corporation and John A. Roebling Sons Co.

Apr. Construction begins on the current Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

May Robert E. Drake, a carpenter working at the west anchorage, becomes the first bridge worker to die building the current Narrows Bridge.


Apr. Construction of the East Tower (Tower 5) is nearly complete, except for cable saddles.

An earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale shakes the Puget Sound region. The trembler caused no damage to the Narrows Bridge's piers or towers, then under construction. During the quake, the towers swayed as much as six feet from perpendicular. The 28-ton cable saddle on the north side of Tower 5 (East Tower) was in place, but not secured. It fell 510 feet, plunging through a barge below (which sank) and dropping 140 feet to the bottom of the Sound. It took workmen 3 days to retrieve the cable saddle and another week to repair it and return it to its perch atop the East Tower.

June Fire destroys the creosoted timber fender of the West Pier (Pier 4). The tower suffers only minor damage. Flames leap over 400 feet into the air, damaging some cable spinning machinery. The fender is later rebuilt.

Effective completion of both East and West Towers.

Foss Tug No. 11 pulls the first line from the east anchorage to the east tower. The line was used to install pull-back and catwalk cables.

July Official completion date for both East and West Towers. Work is turned over to John A. Roebling Sons Co. for cable construction.

Oct. First strand of cable spun.


Jan. John Roebling Sons Co. drop the first suspender cables connecting the main cable to the deck.

Completion of cable spinning for main suspension cables.

Apr. Lawrence Stuart Gale, a 36-year old iron worker, dies during deck construction when a weld gives way and he plummets 180 feet into the Narrows. Gale is the second worker to be killed building the 1950 Narrows Bridge. He leaves behind a wife and 3-year old daughter.

May Workmen place the closing top chord of steel on the bridge deck at mid-span.

June Start of concrete pouring on deck.

Oct. .After 29 months of construction, a new, much safer Tacoma Narrows Bridge opens. Tolls are 50 cents for car and driver one-way; 10 cents per passenger.


Jan.-Mar. Several wind storms with sustained wind speeds up to 75 miles per hour sweep through the Tacoma Narrows. The bridge stands solid, showing no vertical or torsional movement and only a slight lateral deflection.

Nov Completion of all components of the current Narrows Bridge.


Oct. Construction of the Living War Memorial, Memorial Park, located on the south side of the east approach of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Nov. On Armistice Day 1952, the Living War Memorial honoring Tacoma's and Pierce County's soldiers who fought in World War II is dedicated.


May Tolls on the Narrows Bridge are officially removed in a ceremony at 10:00 a.m.


June A 19-year old woman becomes the first to survive a fall from the bridge.


A thorough inspection by a private firm marks a milestone for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The final report concludes that the bridge is one of the best in the nation for its maintenance and condition.