Joseph Strauss

The Mighty Task is Done

Dale Fehringer

Copyright 2017 by Dale Fehringer

  

Drawing of Joseph Strauss.


Joseph Strauss was a tenacious man. Despite his small stature, he was a giant of a man his whole life; an over-achiever who was driven to do great things. And, as his signature achievement, the Golden Gate Bridge, attests, he was able to accomplish them.

Born in Ohio of artist parents, Strauss attempted to be a poet and an athlete. He wrote poetry his whole life and became reasonably good at it. He failed at athletics and was so badly injured as a college football player he spent time in an infirmary, where his room overlooked a major Cincinnati suspension bridge. An idea formed as he stared at it: he wanted to build bridges. And he did – dozens of them across the U.S., including the Lefty O’Doul drawbridge across the street from San Francisco’s AT&T ballpark.

But his most challenging project came when Michael O’Shaughnessy, San Francisco’s city engineer went looking for someone to build a bridge to span the Golden Gate and enable automobile traffic to traverse the waters that separated San Francisco and Marin County. He found Strauss, who agreed to build the bridge. Strauss fought for 10 years to obtain permission and funding.

When the bridge was finally started, Strauss, as chief engineer, made sure it was done properly and safely. He and his staff designed a beautiful suspension bridge that would be the longest in the world. And, to build it, they instituted safety measures unheard of in those times, including hard hats for workers, made from hardened leather and inspired by football helmets. He required that all workers “tie-off” to the bridge to keep from falling, and he fired any that refused to do so. And he developed and installed a safety net under bridge workers to catch those who fell (who then became members of the “Halfway to hell Club”). As a result of his safety measures, fatalities during construction of the Golden Gate Bridge were well below accepted standards for the time.

Strauss put his heart and soul into designing and constructing the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, and his tenacious dedication likely led to his premature death shortly after it was finished. Ever the poet, he penned the following poem to commemorate its completion.

The Mighty Task is Done

Written upon completion of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in May 1937

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.
On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Beneath, fleet ships from every port,
Vast landlocked bay, historic fort,
And dwarfing all--the sea.

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