1870 - 1938
Trapped in a diminutive five-foot frame, Joseph Baermann Strauss went on to fulfill his dream "to build the biggest thing of its kind that a man could build." His creation, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge with record span of 4200 feet, would define a city and represent the century of progress. Joseph B. Strauss, the son of noteworthy artist Raphael Strauss, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1870. Unlike his father, Joseph turned to engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
At the University, the young Strauss's ambition shined through, both in his successful bid for class president and in his ambitious thesis which described the proposed construction of an international railroad across the Bering Strait. Upon graduation in 1892 Strauss searched for direction, serving as a draftsman with the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company, a lecturer in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, and as a detailer with the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Company in Chicago. In 1899 Strauss became the principal assistant engineer at the Office of Ralph Modjeski where he would subsequently design many of the lift and draw bridges over the Chicago River. It was with Modjeski that Strauss began to innovate the design of bascule bridges, a type of moveable bridge that operates on a seesaw principle by means of large counterweights. Resistance to Strauss's ideas forced him to leave Modjeski, and in 1904 he established the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, which was later renamed the Strauss Engineering Corporation.
The most significant project of the new company was the 2143- foot Arlington Memorial Bridge crossing the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. The center arch of the bridge was a double-leaf steel bascule bridge with concealed counterweights, constructed in such a manner that even the most observant bystander had difficulty realizing that one of the spans was movable. In 1915 Strauss applied bascule bridge technology to create an amusement ride for the 1915 San Francisco World's fair. His Aeroscope could carry one-hundred people two-hundred feet in the air, providing them an unobstructed view of the strait between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean known as the Golden Gate. Talk of bridging the strait had growing support in the Bay area, and in 1919 San Francisco's chief engineer Michael O'Shaughnessy contacted Strauss and other bridge designers including .
By 1921 Strauss delivered a proposed bridge design, a half cantilever, half suspension bridge hybrid. Though unconventional in appearance, it did carry the attractive price tag of $17 million, about $43 million less than Lindenthal's estimate. Throughout the 1920s Strauss became entrenched in Bay Area politics, generating enough support so that he was named Chairman of the Golden Gate Board and chief engineer of the project, leaving O'Shaughnessy out in the cold. Strauss sought the advice of Othmar Ammann and Leon Moisseiff, who suggested that a suspension bridge would be lighter, more economical, and quicker to build. As the designs progressed and public attention began to focus more on his chief engineer Charles Ellis, Strauss abruptly fired him and later refused to permit Ellis's name to appear on any official bridge documents. Ellis's replacement, Clifford E. Paine, also received second billing, eventually being listed for posterity as the "Principal Assistant Engineer " on a plaque on the eastern leg of the San Francisco tower. The Golden Gate Bridge opened May 27, 1937, and even though Strauss was the driving force behind the bridge, his egoism irked many subordinates. This was most evident when opponents blocked a proposed brass statue of chief engineer Strauss to be installed on the bridge plaza. Strauss's widow eventually funded the statue in 1941, which stated "Joseph B. Strauss, 1870-1938, "The Man Who Built the Bridge."