Atop the Golden Gate Bridge

The 746-foot-tall, mile-long Golden Gate Bridge is as abstract in scale and allure as it is essential in function. There’s no better way to fully appreciate this wonder of civil engineering than to experience the bridge from top to bottom, and from the inside out. I was lucky enough to ascend to the top of the “the most photographed bridge in the world” to do exactly that.

It’s difficult to imagine any other landmark in its place, but the bridge is a fortunate consequence of failed design proposals, aggressive lobbying and a cry for employment amid the Great Depression. A colossal steel structure comprised of 80,000 miles of steel cable and 600,000 rivets, capable of laterally bending 27 feet in high winds.

Even the story of its famous color represents San Francisco’s humble and opportunistic origins. Its designers initially called for a darker color of gray, aluminum or black, while the US Navy requested black and yellow stripes for greater visibility. But the steel beams arrived from the factory coated in a vibrant red coat of standard primer. Designers quickly agreed that the color, which they named “International Orange”, perfectly complemented the bridge and its natural surroundings, while remaining highly visible in the fog.

Despite the bridge affording numerous economic promises, the project met fierce resistance from business and regulatory leaders. Many worried that the bridge would impede on shipping routes, while others complained that it would blemish the natural landscape or fall at the tremor of the next large earthquake.

In 1930 alone (three years before construction began), the bridge faced 2,300 lawsuits, including those from the likes of Southern Pacific Railroad, which owned the ferry company charged with providing cross-bay transportation between San Francisco and Marin.

Today, the more than 80-year-old bridge is as much a symbol as it is a landmark – a symbol representing the transformational power of connection, persistence, opportunity and innovation.