George Washington Bridge 80th Anniversary

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey celebrates the 80th anniversary of the October 25, 1931 opening of the George Washington Bridge.

  • 80 Years
  • Facts
  • Milestones
  • Photos
  • Resources
  • Trivia
  • Share Your Story

The George Washington Bridge spans the Hudson River between Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood and the borough of Fort Lee, New Jersey. It also forms part of U.S. Interstate I-95.

The bridge, designed by Othmar H. Ammann, was the world's longest suspension bridge when it opened to traffic on October 25, 1931. Today, it carries the distinction of being the world's only 14-lane suspension bridge and home to the world's largest free-flying flag. The bridge often has been used as an establishing shot for New York City in many movies and is the subject of several books.

In 1981, the George Washington Bridge was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It also has been recognized with numerous other engineering, architectural and design awards.

The two-level George Washington Bridge (GWB) crosses the Hudson River between upper Manhattan (West 178th Street) and Fort Lee, New Jersey and forms part of Interstate Highway I-95.

This suspension bridge was designed by Othmar H. Ammann who was the Port Authority's Chief Engineer during that time. Ground was broken for the original six-lane bridge in October 1927. The Port Authority opened the bridge to traffic on October 25, 1931. In 1946, two additional lanes were provided on the upper level.

The lower level was opened on August 29, 1962. This increased the capacity of the bridge by 75 percent, making the GWB the world's only 14-lane suspension bridge, and it is now one of the world's busiest bridges. Mr. Ammann also served as a consultant on the addition of the lower level. In 1981, the George Washington Bridge was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Construction begins on George Washington Bridge (September 21).
George Washington Bridge opens to traffic (October 25).
An aviation beacon installed on top of the New York tower.
Two additional lanes added to the bridge's upper level.
The Port Authority and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority agree to a $1.2 million plan to construct a second deck on the George Washington Bridge (January 11).
A small plane safely landed on the two center upper level roadways.
The lower level deck opens (August 29).
George Washington Bridge Bus Station opens (January 17).
The famous "diamond necklace" or necklace lights on the cables of the George Washington Bridge consists of 148 mercury vapor lights.
One-way toll collection system implemented.
Median barrier added to upper roadway.
Designated National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by American Society if Civil Engineers.
Repainting project begins; the 20-year, $500 million capital program repaints all bridges after preparing the steel surface by removing the existing lead-based paint.
E-ZPass implemented.
Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) implemented.
E-ZPass Only 25-mph lanes implemented at Palisades Interstate Parkway toll plaza.
Lower level toll plaza introduces 25-mph E-ZPass-Only toll lanes.
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  • French architect Le Corbusier called the George Washington Bridge, "The most beautiful bridge in the World." It was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built. This engineering marvel was a departure in suspension bridge design. Bridge engineer Othmar H. Ammann believed that because of the 3,500-foot length of its span, double the length any existing bridge, the dead load became so great it would make the cables rigid enough to withstand moving loads and wind pressure without adding stiffening members. The result was a more beautiful bridge.
  • The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931. It was designed to have the room and strength to accommodate either a railroad or a second deck or vehicular traffic.
  • The lower level deck was opened on August 29, 1962.
  • The George Washington Bridge's original construction finished eight months ahead of schedule and costs were considerably below the original estimates.
  • In its first full year of operation, 5,509,900 vehicles crossed the bridge. Today, approximately 108 million vehicles use the bridge annually, making it the world's busiest bridge.
  • The bridge weighs 600,000 tons.
  • The New York anchorage consists of 165,000 cubic yards of masonry.
  • 300,000 cubic yards of rock were excavated for the New Jersey anchorage of the bridge.
  • The George Washington Bridge's two towers are constructed from 43,000 tons of steel, and top out at 600 feet.
  • Four giant cables, each three feet in diameter, hold the Bridge in place. The cables contain 26,424 wires, each thinner than a pencil. Stretched out, the wires would reach 107,000 miles--nearly halfway to the moon. Those 107,000 miles of cables would go around the earth about four times at the equator.
  • Since 1948, a 60 x 90 foot American flag has been flown on major U.S. holidays beneath the arch of the New Jersey tower. It is the world's largest free-flying flag.
  • In 1943, the first women toll collectors were hired temporarily in response to the war effort. They were not police officers and were replaced by police when World War II ended.
  • From 1963-1967, civilian toll collectors began to replace police, who had been assigned to the job since the bridge opened. Those hired to replace police officers in the tollbooths were all female, until 1973, when the job was opened to those of both genders.
  • The famous "diamond necklace" or necklace lights on the cables of the GWB consists of 148 mercury vapor lights. The lights were added to the bridge in April 1964, and added a special glimmer during the 1964-65 World's Fair.
  • In the 1960s, a small plane safely landed on the two center upper level roadways. Luckily for the plane, the median barrier wasn't added until 1970!
  • In 1970, the one-way toll collection system went into effect.

On Opening Day:

  • On the gala dedication day, as marching soldiers began to parade past the guests, New York Governor Al Smith, fearful of the stress on the bridge, asked bridge engineer Othmar Ammann if the men should break step. Ammann's classic reply: "They could be elephants and they wouldn't hurt the bridge."
  • On its first day of operation, 55,523 vehicles, 33,540 pedestrians and a man named Martin Solomon of 23 W 73rd Street in Manhattan crossed the bridge. He paid the 25 cent toll for he and his horse, Rubio. On the Bridge's 50th anniversary on October 25, 1981, Mr. Solomon said, "The bridge holds very fond memories for me, for I was a young man then. Give me a horse and I'll try it again."
  • The pedestrian walkway was well used the bridge's first day of operation. Mrs. Y.D.C. Smith of Grantwood, N.J. was the first female pedestrian across the span. Two Bronx boys, Fred Ammerman, 14 and Leonard Molseyeff, 11, were the first to skate across the bridge. Proud parents Mr. and Mrs. Perrone Lapodi of Fort Lee pushed their infant son in the first perambulator to cross the bridge.
  • Also, about 20,000 pedestrians paid the 10 cents per person toll to walk across the George Washington Bridge on its first full day of operation. It was said the 10 cents charge discouraged some from walking across and that some 10,000 people lined the Manhattan plaza at 179th Street just to watch the endless stream of autos.
  • Al Capone was sentenced to an eleven-year federal prison term at Leavenworth the day the bridge opened.

About the bridge's namesake, George Washington:

  • George Washington, the "father of our country", actually crossed the Hudson River between Washington Heights in upper Manhattan and Fort Lee in the Palisades of New Jersey over two centuries ago, by boat.
  • Part of the reason for the George Washington Bridge being named for the nation's founder, has to do with the history of the area. Fort Washington and Fort Constitution, in the immediate vicinity of the Bridge, figured conspicuously in the defense of the colonies of New York and New Jersey under the leadership of George Washington.

About Othmar H. Amman:

  • As Chief Engineer of the Port Authority, Othmar H. Ammann planned and supervised construction of the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Bayonne Bridge. As Chief Engineer of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, he planned and directed construction of the Triborough and Bronx-Whitestone bridges. The great engineer had also been identified with the design of the Golden Gate, Delaware Memorial and Walt Whitman bridges and has been responsible for the design and supervision of construction of the Throgs Neck and Verrazano-Narrows bridges.

About Fort Lee and Washington Heights:

  • Native Americans originally crossed the Hudson River in canoes. Later, early Dutch settlers used rowboats.
  • Local newspapers had fun inventing names for the Hudson River Bridge, now called the George Washington Bridge, before it was constructed. Their suggestions? Gate of Paradise, Bridge of Prosperity, Experiment, Prohibition, Pride of the Nation, Public, Bistate and Mother's Bridge!

Other interesting facts:

  • In 1935, an aviation beacon was installed on top of the New York tower. It is named the Will Rodgers-Wiley Post Memorial Beacon, after the popular entertainer and aviator visited the bridge.
  • The Little Red Lighthouse made famous in the children's book by Hildegarde Swift and Lynn Ward in 1942 is located on the New York shore near the Bridge. The Coast Guard built it in 1902 to steer grain barges and other vessels away from the shoals of Jeffrey's Hook. It was no longer needed when navigational lights were put on the bridge. It was saved from the auction block in 1951 and is under the jurisdiction of the New York City Parks Department.
  • In 1943, the Bridge made its film debut in "Ball of Fire", starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. Many other films have followed, including "How to Marry a Millionaire", "The In-Laws", and "Desperately Seeking Susan".
  • The distinguished American composer William Schuman wrote a musical composition entitled "George Washington Bridge" in 1950. Schuman said it was inspired by the impression the Bridge gave him as he crossed it and observed it at different times of the day. Schuman wrote, "This bridge has had for me an almost human personality."

We invite you to "like" our George Washington Bridge Facebook page, and to post your GWB story there.

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