For most Puget Sound residents in Washington State, the name Galloping Gertie is a common household name. We all know what happened on that fateful day, November 7, 1940, when strong wind gusts (40 mph) brought down the suspension bridge that spanned across the Tacoma Narrows strait. Even on a normal day, drivers on the bridge would comment that it undulated so much when crossing, that the car in front would literally disappear for seconds: thus the name “Galloping Gertie.” One can’t help but think about the history of the bridge as one drives across the new span today.
The crumbling of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge created a whole new field of aerodynamics in bridge design. The man most widely viewed as responsible for the failure of the structure was bridge designer Leon Moisseiff, a native of Latvia, and a graduate of Columbia University. His other engineering works include the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, New York’s George Washington and Manhattan Bridges, Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Bridge, among others.
Immediately after the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, fingers were pointed at cheapskate federal authorities for employing “East Coast engineers.” What worked for the Manhattan Bridge did not work for here. Leon Moisseiff was at a loss for words as to what happened to the structure. He blamed it on a “peculiar wind condition” that hit at an unfortunate angle.
Years later a new Tacoma Narrows Bridge was built, as well as a second, larger bridge added years down the road to help streamline traffic. Here is my own photo of the two bridges. The Galloping Gertie replacement is on the right. The newest bridge addition, on the left. The scenic Olympic Mountains, to the west, are visible in the background.
Here is a YouTube video highlighting the collapse of the original bridge in 1940.
An article was published in the Tacoma News Tribune last week celebrating the anniversary of the bridge along with a bit of its history, which you may find interesting. http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article41772720.html