Bridging Utility and Aesthetics

The inauguration of the Sydney Harbour Bridge took place on March 19th, 1932. Stretching across Sydney Harbour from the central business district (CBD) to the North Shore, it stands as one of Sydney, Australia’s most iconic landmarks, alongside the Opera House. Spanning from Dawes Point to Milsons Point, the bridge is affectionately known as ‘The Coathanger’ due to its distinctive arch-based design, accommodating rail, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic, with the bridge walk situated on the eastern side and the cycleway on the western side.

Recognised as an engineering marvel, the bridge offers breathtaking views, particularly during sunset, attracting tourists from around the world. As the largest steel arch bridge globally, it holds a significant place in Sydney’s tourism, ranking as the tenth longest spanning-arch bridge worldwide. Until the construction of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver in 2012, Sydney Harbour Bridge boasted the title of the world’s widest long-span bridge, spanning 160 feet in width over its 1149-meter length. The construction utilized 52,800 tonnes of steelwork, encompassing the arch and approach spans.

In 1988, the bridge received recognition as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark during an official visit by a delegation from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). At the same time, the bridge was declared a National Engineering Landmark under the Australian Historic Engineering Plaquing Program managed by Engineering Heritage Australia.

It took eight years for the iconic bridge to become a reality. The construction for the bridge began on 28th July 1923. The erection of the steelwork commenced in September 1926 and the bridge was completed on 19th January 1932. The bridge was inaugurated two months later.

John Bradfield was appointed as the Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction in 1914, and his exemplary work on the mammoth project during the course of many years earned him the title of the father of the bridge. However, the construction of the bridge was completed by Dorman Long & Co.

According to, the official tourism site for Destination NSW, the bridge is made of 53,000 tonnes of steel and six million hand-driven rivets. During construction, the two steel halves of the towering arch met in the middle of the span on 19thAugust 1930, at 10pm.

The arch of the bridge is 503 meters and the bridge is 134 meters above the water level. Six million Australian-made hand-driven rivets, which were supplied by the McPherson company of Melbourne, hold the bridge together. 

Benefits and Price

The construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge has immense economic significance. During the period of construction of the bridge, Australia was suffering from the Great Depression, and the construction of the bridge generated a huge number of jobs for the unemployed. 

The coming of the Sydney Harbour Bridge also introduced new housing opportunities on the North Shore, a region within northern Sydney.  North Shore generally refers to suburbs located on the northern side of Sydney Harbour up to Wahroonga, and suburbs between Middle Harbour and the Lane Cove River. Today, the immense short and long-term economic impact of Sydney Harbour Bridge is simply immeasurable.

The total cost involved in the making of the bridge was then approximately 6.25 million Australian pounds, and the amount was not fully paid off till 1988. But such a mammoth and aesthetic project of great utilitarian value also has its own heavy price, which went much beyond the above-mentioned financial cost of the project.

The industrial safety standards adhered to during the construction of the bridge were not adequate according to today’s standards. Sixteen workers died during the construction process, with two from falling off the bridge. Several more workers suffered injury from unsafe working practices undertaken and many workers engaged in the project experienced deafness in later years, which was often attributed to the project. 

Approximately 469 structures on the north shore, comprising residences and businesses, were demolished to facilitate the construction process, with minimal compensation provided.

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