Travel & Day Trips

Why Isn’t The Golden Gate Bridge Actually Golden?

The Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in San Francisco, often puzzles visitors with its misleading name. It’s International Orange (an organish, redish color), not golden.

So, what’s the story behind this misnomer? Let’s delve deeper to find out!

What’s in a Name: The Golden Gate

In truth, the “Golden Gate” in the bridge’s name has nothing to do with its color. The term actually refers to the Golden Gate Strait, the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The strait was named by U.S. Army Captain John C. Frémont in the mid-1800s, long before the bridge was built (and before the Gold Rush, too.)

Captain Frémont compared this strait to the “Golden Horn” in Istanbul, a commercial harbor having immense strategic importance, hence the “Golden Gate”. The name represents a metaphorical gateway to the vast Pacific and the opportunities it held, rather than any actual golden color.

Choosing the Color: The International Orange

The bridge’s distinctive color, known as International Orange, was not originally intended to be its permanent hue. When the steel for the bridge was shipped in 1933, it came coated in a reddish-orange primer to protect against corrosion. This unconventional color struck a chord with the consulting architect, Irving Morrow.

Architectural Aesthetics and Safety Concerns

The purpose of the color was twofold. Morrow believed the warm, orange-red hue blended well with the surrounding land and seascape, complementing the blue waters and verdant hills. The color would also make the bridge more visible to ships in the area’s frequently foggy conditions, enhancing its safety features.

The Army and Navy’s Preferences

Morrow had to fight for his choice, though. The U.S. Navy wanted the bridge to be painted with black and yellow stripes for maximum visibility. Ironically, that would have made it a bit more “golden” than it is today.

The Army Air Corps preferred a candy cane red and white scheme to ensure aircraft could see it. But Morrow’s argument about aesthetics and safety prevailed.

The Official Color: International Orange

International Orange is a deeper, richer color than standard safety orange. The official color mix can vary depending on the manufacturer, but the standard formula is composed of black, white, burnt sienna, and some yellow ochre. This unique blend creates a striking color that has become synonymous with the bridge.

In conclusion, while the Golden Gate Bridge may not live up to its “golden” name in color, it certainly does in terms of its symbolic value. The iconic International Orange bridge stands as a golden gateway to the Pacific Ocean and remains one of the world’s most recognized and admired structures. So, the next time someone asks you, “Why isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge actually golden?” you’ll be able to tell them it’s a tale of history, aesthetics, and maritime safety.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

Leave a Reply

Back to top button