Engineers honor 'Galloping Gertie'

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has formally recognized the significant effect the failure of the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge had on advancing the science of suspension-bridge design.

A ceremony commemorating the bridge as a civic engineering landmark was held Saturday afternoon at an overlook inside the Living War Memorial Park. The ASCE also created a plaque commemorating the landmark designation for the 1940 and 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridges.

In 1940, the graceful and sleek mile-long bridge, the first to cross the Tacoma Narrows, ordinary winds caused the bridge to undulate with such ferocity that it ripped itself apart as a shocked and mesmerized crowed looked on. Even though no human lives were lost, the unforgettable images of twisting metal and concrete deck sections crashing into Puget Sound immortalized engineering gone wrong. “Galloping Gertie,” open for only four months at the time of its collapse, became a powerful symbol of the importance of aerodynamics on suspension-bridge stability. That first bridge over the Tacoma Narrows was both a spectacular achievement and a spectacular failure, and its short life forever changed how engineers design bridges.

ASCE National President Andrew Herrmann, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, and Kevin Dayton, Olympic Region administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation, attended the ceremony Saturday.

ASCE’s Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Program recognizes historically significant local, national and international civil engineering projects, structures and sites. The program identifies and designates national historic civil engineering works that have made a significant contribution to the development of the civil engineering profession. Founded in 1852, the ASCE represents more than 144,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America’s oldest national engineering society.

Tacoma's Galloping Gertie collapses during a 1940 wind storm. (PHOTO COURTESY WSDOT)