The Fall of Galloping Gertie

Posted on January 13, 2007 

The Fall of Galloping Gertie

The Fall of Galloping Gertie

In early 1940, engineers and construction workers put the finishing touches on what was to be the the longest man-made span in the US, and the third-longest in the world: the Tacoma Narrows bridge. The half-mile-long structure linked Tacoma, Washington to Gig Harbor, and its completion inspired statements such as “a triumph of man’s ingenuity,” and all other manner of gratified exuberance. But as workers finalized the construction, a curious behavior became evident. Although the bridge had been designed to withstand winds up to 120 miles per hour, observers noted that even a mere breeze would occasionally cause wavelike ripples to travel up and down its length. Many workers had to chew on lemon wedges to suppress motion sickness.

The Fall of Galloping Gertie

Experiments with a scale model produced no clear solution to the unwanted movement. Though the gentle wave motion didn’t put the massive bridge in any structural distress, it was clear that motorists would find it disconcerting as cars ahead of them bobbed in and out of view. In spite of the complication, the bridge was opened to the public on 1 July 1940. It did not remain open for long.

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