Golden Gate Bridge
Location & Geography

San Francisco – the South Anchor

Being part of Mexican territory after the successful battle for independence from Spain in 1821, the area was settled more and more by people of European descent, and less and less by Natives, who were victims of new diseases (and eventually moved onto reservations). Most settlers moved beyond the village known as Yerba Buena to farm in the valleys or cut timber in the hills and mountains. The war between the U.S. and Mexico started in 1846 and lasted for two years. Just weeks before it ended, gold was discovered near Sacramento, and started the largest peace-time emigration in the history of the United States. The “Forty-Niners” who arrived by ship the next year numbered over 100,000, and the human wave continued for years, with most moving east to find their fortunes and failing, and the wiser ones staying put in Yerba Buena to become merchants - and finding theirs. The new settlers petitioned for admission to the Union in 1950, and the newly re-named San Francisco, which grew from 3000 to 35,000 in 2 years, was instantly the largest city in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. The first serious plan to build a bridge from San Francisco to the north appeared in 1872, was put forth by railroad construction contractor Charles Crocker, but nothing ever came from it as he decided to retire instead.

There were 350,000 people in California’s largest city when the great 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed much of San Francisco and made over 250,000 of them homeless. Reports of deaths were understated by the authorities, who were reluctant to scare off needed investment. But the news of the devastation still suppressed the important tourist trade, which had gradually become one of the San Francisco's most important industries. Citizens and leaders worked together to re-build a modern city, with that new-fangled invention of the automobile in mind. The Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915 was held on new land reclaimed by scooping up the rubble and ashes from downtown and dumping them into the saltwater swamp between the old Presidio and the new Fort Mason. The Exposition was planned with hopes that tourism would return to and surpass its pre-quake levels.

The popularity of the automobile inspired even more use of ferry boats to cross the waters of the bay, a welcome innovation that eventually became a tedious chore. By 1920, the opinions of commuters and tourists alike contributed to a lively public debate over the need for and viability of bridges across the waters of the Bay.

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