This Day In History

Sydney Harbour Bridge opens


On 19 March 1932 the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened to the public. The event marked the end of almost a century of speculation and planning around a bridge or tunnel that would cross the harbour. In 1922 the New South Wales Parliament passed the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act and preparation for the building got underway.

Construction began on the approaches to the span in 1923 and on the bridge itself in 1925. More than 1600 people worked on the bridge during its construction.

The first sod was turned for the building of the bridge in July 1923, a full six months before tenders closed for the construction contract. This marked the start of work on the approaches to the bridge.

The four abutments are the load-bearing foundation of the bridge and from these the arch, which supports the road and rail deck, was built outwards simultaneously from the north and south.

Arch construction began on 26 October 1928. In total, more than 52,800 tonnes of steel were used; 39,000 tonnes in the arch alone. The steel was fabricated into girders onsite in two large workshops built at Milson’s Point, on the site of present day Luna Park.

Slowly the main span of the bridge was erected by cantilevering the two half arches towards each other from each shore. The arches were stabilised by 128 steel cables anchored in tunnels excavated into the bedrock on each embankment.

High shot showing hundreds of people crossing the road deck. On 19 August 1930, the two halves of the arch were joined, making the bridge self-supporting and allowing the cables to be removed.

With the span complete, vertical hangers were attached to the arch and from these the bridge deck could be built. The deck was completed in June 1931. The road, rail, water, drainage and gas lines were laid onto the deck over the next year.

More than 1600 people worked on the bridge during the nine years of its construction, providing much-needed jobs for Sydney during the Great Depression. The official opening of the bridge took place on 19 March 1932. By that time 52,000 school children had already crossed the bridge in a series of ‘school days’.

More than 750,000 people gathered around the harbour for the official opening event. The bridge was to be opened by the New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang.

The cost of building the bridge was £4,238,839, although with the costs of constructing the approaches, the land resumptions, and interest paid during construction, the total cost of the build was closer to £10 million.

The debt was finally paid off in 1988.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge has become one of the most recognisable icons, along with the Sydney Opera House, of Sydney and Australia.

The bridge undoubtedly made Sydney and its suburbs a much more connected city. In 2017, the bridge handles more than 200 trains, 160,000 vehicles and 1900 bikes per day.    —Augeographic.com