GWB: Did You know?

By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett

Opening Day 1931-Martin Solomon crossed the bridge on a horse named Rubio

Soon after the opening day ceremony of the George Washington Bridge in 1931, the GWB became the busiest bridge in the world. On its first day, 57,788 vehicles and one man on a horse crossed the bridge.  Tolls for automobiles and horse and wagons were 50 cents and 25 cents for bicycles.  Initially it cost more to walk across the bridge than ride the bus.  Pedestrians were charged 10 cents and a shuttle bus ride across the bridge was only a nickel.  Eventually the pedestrian toll was dropped.

Do you know how the GWB got its name?

Throughout the four years of its construction from 1927-1931, everyone referred to the bridge as the Hudson River Bridge.  And then the Port of New York Authority – as it was known at the time — decided to call it the George Washington Memorial Bridge instead, which caused a big public ruckus because there were 25 George Washington Bridges in the U.S. already.   Finally, there was a popular referendum on the name, and tens of thousands of votes later, Hudson River Bridge emerged as the overwhelming favorite.  The Port Authority ignored that outcome and went with the George Washington anyway.

Did you know that over the years a wide assortment of stuff has spilled onto the GWB roadway from trucks and cars?  

In 2001, a tractor-trailer overturned near the GWB spilling cases of Bolivian beer that tied up traffic from Connecticut to Maryland.  Once, the eastbound lanes of the upper level of the GWB were temporarily closed when a truck spilled a load of watermelons.  Another time it was 14,000 pounds of frozen chicken parts.  Once, a herd of goats escaped from a truck and ran across the bridge.  An aromatic cargo of horse manure once spilled onto the roadway:  while Port Authority employees shoveled like crazy to clean up the manure and get things moving, garden-minded motorists caught in the traffic jam helped themselves to free fertilizer.

Did you know Othmar Ammann designed more bridges in NYC than any other civil engineer?

Although less well known than Brooklyn Bridge builder, John Augustus Roebling, Ammann, (1879-1965), gave more bridges to NYC than any other civil engineer.  During the 1920’s and early 30’s, Ammann was responsible for building the George Washington Bridge (1931), the Bayonne Bridge (1931), Triborough (1936), Bronx-Whitestone (1939), Throgs Neck (1961) and Verrazano-Narrows (1964).  He also supervised the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel and consulted on other projects in New York and beyond, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Did you know that Othmar Ammann’s daughter confessed later in her life that there was a drawback to being his kid?

Dr. Margaret Ammann-Durrer told the New York Times in 2003 that growing up during the 1930s with her famous dad was like living with any other father you love.  “I had no idea what was going on in his head, but I remember him spending long hours bent over his desk at night.”   But she had one complaint: “I was in the seventh grade when the George Washington Bridge opened, and I always despaired the fact that I was supposed to have a good mark in arithmetic.”

Do you know what guitar strings and bridge cables have in common?

Before bridge cable is spooled and shipped out, a special machine stretches the cable.  Otherwise, like the strings of a guitar, which quickly go flat if not stretched before being tuned, massive bridge cables would sag under their constant tension if not pre-stretched.   The suspender ropes on the GWB measure about three inches in diameter, and are composed of 271 steel “wires” spun into seven strands bound together.

Do you know what paint chip colors are available for NYC bridges?  

Unless the structure is designated as a historical landmark or exempt from the guidelines of the Department of Transportation’s Division of Bridges, only seven colors are available:  Deep Cool Red, Federal Blue, George Washington Bridge Gray, Aluminum Green, Pulaski Red, Munsell Gray or Dark Green.  Though these choices seem limited, in 2003, there was an even smaller range of colors available – Pulaski Red, Munsell Gray or Dark Green.  The two all-time favorites are George Washington Bridge Gray and Federal Blue, which each have a strong color relationship to the sky.

Did you know that the iconic towers of the GWB were intended at first to be encased in granite?

Cass Gilbert, architect of the Woolworth Building and the old United States Custom House, had designed a granite cladding for the towers.  But then the GWB committee of the Port of New York Authority interceded for reasons that may or may not have included the high cost of granite.  According to an account of the design decision, Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, urban planner and a pioneer of what today is known as modern architecture wrote: “Little by little the spirit of the modern times [made] itself felt:  these men said “Stop! No stone or decoration [on the bridge].  The two towers and the mathematical play of the cable make a splendid unity.  It is one.  That is the new beauty.”

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