Monday, November 7, 2011

This Day in History November 7, 1940

This day's story hits home for me.  While I wasn't alive, I was born in Tacoma, and I know the history of this infamous bridge.  I have been on the replacement bridge many times in my lifetime.  And this story is considered the worst failure in bridge history.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was built during the 1930's, and it opened to traffic July 1, 1940.   At the time, it was the third largest suspension bridge in the world (5.959 feet), and it connected Gig Harbor to Tacoma.  It had cost over $6 million to build, and everyone believed it would be safe.  It was given the nickname "Gallopin' Gertie" because it often swayed during high winds.

On the morning of this date  in 1940, 42-mile and hour winds began blowing through Puget Sound.  The bridge was doing its usual rocking and tilting, but it came to a head right around 10:00 A.M..  Leonard Coatsworth,  a news editor for the Tacoma News Tribune, was driving over the bridge with his daughter's dog.  The bridge began twisting, and within minutes the bridge was closed.  Coatsworth was able to get out of his car, but the frightened dog remained in the car despite the best efforts to save him.  Just about an hour later, the massive bridge began its massive collapse into the Sound below.  And within a matter of minutes, the structure was lying at the bottom of the Puget Sound.  The dog was the only casualty.

Engineers soon discovered the fault that had caused this tragedy.  October 14. 1950, saw the opening of a replacement bridge.  It is the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world--some 50 feet longer than the original.  The remains of Gallopin' Gertie still rest at the bottom of the Puget Sound, and they form one of the largest man-made reefs in the world.  These remains have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places so that salvagers do not remove any of it.

For those of you interested in learning more, here are some fantastic links:


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