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With great pomp and fanfare, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was officially opened at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 12, 1936.
The opening of the massive $77 million project was the result of years of planning and construction, and decades of dreams and schemes for connecting the East and West bays without long boat rides. The bridge was national news, with the current president and his predecessor both participating in the dedication.
The proceedings started in Washington, D.C., where President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw a switch that turned a light at the Oakland entrance of the bridge from red to green, sending California Gov. Frank Merriam into action with an acetylene torch to cut a ceremonial chain. Among the dignitaries with Merriam was former President Herbert Hoover, whose interest in the project while in office helped overcome military objections to the chosen route.
Ground was broken for the bridge construction in 1933, and work was completed in three years and five months — ahead of schedule and under budget, but with the added cost of the lives of 23 workers.
Officials at the ceremony held nothing back in their praise of the marvel. Oakland Mayor William McCracken called the bridge “a world wonder,” while Alameda County Supervisor William J. Hamilton declared it to be “the greatest engineering feat of modern times.”
It was estimated that 80,000 vehicles carrying 350,000 people crossed the bridge during the first 12 hours and that $50,000 in tolls, at 65 cents each vehicle plus a charge per passenger, had been paid by midnight.
Officials at the opening repeated a promise that some oldtimers still grumble about to this day: They promised that tolls on the bridge would be eliminated once construction costs were paid off, saying it would take about 20 years.
Top photo: Celebrants begin to gather at the eastern end of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge awaiting the opening ceremonies on Nov. 12, 1936. News photographers are perched atop the Toll Plaza. (Courtesy of author)