The Tacoma Narrows is the single point in the 20,000 square miles of Puget Sound where the Washington mainland and the Olympic Peninsula are close. For years, it had been clear to State officials that the Narrows would have to be bridged in order to open up the spectacular and thinly populated Peninsula. Aware of this situation, the Washington State Legislature created the Washington Toll Bridge Authority in 1937, with a mandate to finance, construct and operate toll bridges.
The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge was revolutionary in its design and historic in its collapse. The failure on November 7, 1940 marked the end of a trend in bridge engineering towards a maximum of lightness, grace and flexibility. Since the turn of the century, suspension bridge construction valued structural grace and slenderness to achieve an artistic appearance. With its shallow stiffening trusses and slender towers, the bridge across the Narrows was the epitome of artistry in bridge construction.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was known for its tendency to sway in windstorms. The shape of the bridge was much like that of an aircraft wing and under windy conditions it would generate sufficient lift and become unstable. On November 7, 1940 a large windstorm caused severe and catastrophic failure if the bridge deck.
The significance of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, to a large extent, is derived from its startling collapse on November 7, 1940. The collapse brought engineers world-wide to the realization that aerodynamic phenomena in suspension bridges were not adequately understood in the profession nor had they been addressed in this design. New research was necessary to understand and predict these forces. The official investigation into the collapse recommended the use of wind-tunnel tests to aid in the design of the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge and resulted in the testing of all existing and future bridges across the country. New mathematical theories of vibration, aerodynamics, wave phenomena, and harmonics as they apply to bridge design arose from these studies.
Today's Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a hallmark in the history of bridge design and civil engineering. The remains, located on the bottom of the Sound, are a permanent record of man's capacity to build structures without fully understanding the implications of the design and the forces of nature.
Comparison of the Bridges
UAS gathered and produced material for the submission of the collapsed and submerged Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the National Registry of Historical places. The nomination was the first of its type, using sonar imagery as the basis for the nomination. The Nomination was accepted, adding the site to the Federal, State, County and City Registry of Historical Places. A documentary was prepared and aired Nationally. The documentary was nominated and won the 1991, 13th Annual Award For Cable Excellence ( ACE Award).
For a look at this and other local historical events, please consult the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society & Museum.
Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society & Museum