The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third longest suspension span in the world when it opened on July 1, 1940. It quickly earned the nickname “Galloping Gertie” from its tendency to sway and twist in the wind. Many drivers complained of seasickness when crossing the bridge and compared it to riding a roller coaster.
On November 7, after only four months of service, the bridge tore itself apart in 45-mph winds and tumbled into Puget Sound. Today, the submerged remains of Galloping Gertie are on the National Register of Historic Places and are a popular stop for scuba divers.*
Gertie's collapse had a profound impact on suspension bridge building in the United States. Prior to constructing Gertie's replacement, approximately four years were spent on research and aerodynamic development. For the first time, a special wind tunnel was constructed at the University of Washington for testing three-dimensional bridge models.
The replacement bridge, now known as the Current Narrows Bridge, was built using the undamaged towers of the 1940 Narrows Bridge and opened to traffic on October 14, 1950. Designed to carry 60,000 cars per day, it currently handles an average of more than 90,000 per day. However, an inspection by a private firm in 2000 concluded that the 1950s bridge is one of the best in the nation for its maintenance and condition.
* For those unfamiliar with Galloping Gertie, the Washington DOT offers an excellent overview at www.wsdot.wa.gov/TNBhistory.