Built in 1932 and popularly known as known as the 'Coathanger' because of its arch-based design, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a steel through arch bridge across the Sydney Harbour, joining the Sydney Central Business District and the North Shore. Considered as one of the fascinating landmarks of Australia, the dramatic view of the bridge, along with the Harbour and the magnificent Sydney Opera House, creates a spectacular and ethereal image of Sydney.
Before its construction, the residents of Sydney, intending to cross the Harbour had to board a ferry or undertake a 20 km long journey, which included crossing of five separate bridges. Today, it hardly takes more than fifteen minutes for a person to walk from one side of the Harbour to the other. Though the design of the bridge was influenced by the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, it is more than fifty percent larger than its American counterpart and standing proudly at a height of 440 feet (134 m) above the water level, it is still the tallest steel arch bridge in the world. With its width of 160 feet (48.8 m), Sydney Harbour Bridge was the world's widest long-span bridge, till the completion of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver.
As early as 1815, noted architect Francis Greenway proposed to the Governor to build a bridge from the northern to the southern shore of the Sydney Harbour. Though it was not materialised, the idea remained alive and in 1840, naval architect Robert Brindley proposed to build a floating bridge instead. Again, a suggestion for a truss bridge was made in 1879, and in 1880 a high-level bridge estimated at $850,000 was proposed. In 1900, the government formed a committee to building a new Central Railway Station and arranged a worldwide competition for the design and construction of a Harbour bridge. However, further progress in the matter was stopped due to World War I. Finally, in 1922 the government passed the Sydney Harbour Bridge bill and after the completion of the tendering process, the contract was awarded to the British firm Dorman Long & Co Ltd on 24 March 1924.
To start the proceedings of the construction, about 469 private homes and commercial buildings were demolished on the north shore, with little or no compensation being paid. The actual work on the bridge commenced with the construction of approaches and approach spans, and by September 1926 concrete piers were in place on each side of the Harbor. Construction of the arch began on 26 October 1928 and on 20 August 1930 the joining of the arches was celebrated by flying the flags of Australia and the United Kingdom from the cranes. The deck for the roadway completed by June 1931and on 19 January 1932, the first test train, a steam locomotive, safely crossed the bridge. However, for the load testing of the bridge, the four rail tracks were loaded with 96 steam locomotives, positioned end-to-end in February and after three weeks of testing, it was declared safe and ready to be opened.
The massive Sydney Harbour Bridge, the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world, was formally opened on Saturday, 19 March 1932 and despite it was in the midst of the Great Depression, the celebrations included an array of decorated floats, a cheerful procession of passenger ships sailing smoothly under the colossal bridge, and a colourful Venetian Carnival.
The 2.4 km long main roadway across the bridge, known as the Bradfield Highway is one of the shortest highways in Australia. Apart from the two lanes of road traffic on its eastern side, there are six original lanes of road traffic through the main roadway. Adjacent to the road traffic, a path for pedestrian use runs along the eastern side of the bridge and a path for bicycle use runs along the western side. Another two lanes, between the main roadway and the western bicycle path, are used for railway tracks.
At each end of the arch stands a pair of 292 feet (89 m) high granite faced concrete pylons, designed by the Scottish architect Thomas S Tait. Though the pylons were originally added to the bridge solely for their aesthetic value, today they are used for various purposes. The south-eastern pylon contains a museum and tourist centre, with a 360° lookout at the top providing the wonderful views across the Harbour and city. The pylons were modified in 1942, to include parapets and anti-aircraft guns.
It took eight years to complete the bridge with the help of 1400 people and out of them 16 died during the period of construction. In all, 52,800 tons of steel was used to build the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is held together by six million Australian-made hand-driven rivets. The red-hot rivets were inserted into the plates and immediately, their headless ends were rounded over with a large pneumatic rivet gun. About 272,000 litres of paint were required to give the Bridge its initial three coats. The the height of the steel arch varies with the change in temperature, however the Bridge is equipped with huge hinges to absorb the expansion caused by the hot Sydney sun.
One of the tourist attractions of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is it’s the south-east pylon, which is accessed by a walkway across the bridge and then negotiate about 200 steps to climb to the top to have a panoramic view of the city. Apart from that, today visitors in groups can also climb the southern half of the bridge, except in case of storms and high wind. The climbers are provided with protective clothing appropriate for the prevailing weather conditions.