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Before the 1940 Narrows Bridge was even completed, there was a huge interest in the activity. Clubs and businessmen had been supporting a bridge project for many years between the 1920's when it was first suggested and the 1938 ground-breaking. This is a rare pre-completion section from the Tacoma News Tribune on the progress. The public wanted to know more about the bridge, what it would be like, who was making it, and how it would work, so the newspaper responded to the public here. The article includes hand-drawn images of the not-yet finished bridge, the drawings reportedly done by the engineer himself, Clark Eldridge. The newspaper is circa 1939, and is provided courtesy of a University Place contributor to the website.
An unusual thing happened before the bridge was completed and opened on July 1, 1940. The University Place Improvement Club held a Bridge Celebration event on January 28, 1939. The work had barely begun, the ground-breaking had only happened 2 months before this celebration, but it seems that people were so excited to know the bridge was coming that they had an early party. The hand-drawn image on the cover is remarkably accurate, perhaps the artist had seen the plans to craft the artwork from? This souvenir program is also provided courtesy of a University Place contributor to the website.
Note the advertisement for the Central Bank in the photo above. The President was P.W. Bourgaize, and the bank was located at 2816 6th Avenue. Shown below is a very rare & significant certificate for the Sixth Ave. Business Club. It is autographed by Mr. Bourgaize as President of the Club; and it is made out to the Central Bank- which he was also President of !
The image in the certificate is also of importance. It is the original design proposed for the Narrows bridge by David B. Steinman, circa 1929. But the date of the certificate is 1940, the year the bridge was completed and collapsed. Quite ironic being as this design was not selected; but if it had been chosen the bridge would not have collapsed. The lettering states "Narrows Bridge Sixth Avenue Gateway to Olympic Peninsula".
Here are the signatures of P.W. Bourgaize, President of the Club, and the Secretary- James P. Lesher. Mr. Lesher owned the Hoyt Doughnut Company, a.k.a. Hoyt Bakery at 2412 6th Avenue. James Lesher was affectionately was known around town as "The Mayor of 6th Avenue".
Even postcards were produced before the bridge was finished. Here is an artist's rendition done in color, featuring the about-to-be constructed bridge, including an airplane flying by.
This is a most unique work of art. It is an envelope that was decorated with a hand-drawn & colored 1940 bridge, an airplane, and a ship in the water; with the words "Happy Birthday". It is dated July 3 of 1940, and postmarked on July 5th. The scene was probably inspired by the picture of the same scene shown above that was widely circulated before the bridge was built.
Shown below is a commemorative, or "cinderella" stamp from the 1939 Washington State Golden Jubilee, which featured the Galloping Gertie bridge- again even before it was built. The anticipation was so intense that folks just couldn't wait for the completion.
This is a quite rare newspaper from the Gilmore Cub; an oil Company that published a pre-construction special section of their edition which shows the Narows bridge and the Lake Washington bridge. Though many copies of the paper were printed, not many are known to still exist today.
The circa 1939 wooden plaque shown below is extremely rare- only one other known example exists (see that one below this). Made by the American Sign & Poster Company, it features an artist's depiction of what the "new" 1940 Narrows bridge would look like. Since the bridge had not yet been completed, work such as this and the above items were based on the details provided by the bridge engineers. This plaque was made as a calendar, but it is missing from the plaque. I hope to obtain a period calendar of correct dimensions to replace the missing one.
The only other known American Sign & Poster Co. plaque is seen below. It was on display at the 2007 Tacoma History Museum's Bridging the Narrows exhibit. Note that it features a different bottom section that does not have a calendar; but rather it has details on the various businesses that helped build the bridge. Therefore, each plaque is unique in this respect.
Here is another similar wooden plaque created for the Gertie bridge, but made by a different company named Vivid Tone. It also shows an artist rendition of the bridge, with some of the bridge construction facts.
Tacoma had a periodical magazine way back when, that was titled City of Destiny. It featured many local subjects, and writers that detailed their thoughts & observations about Tacoma. Paid for with advertising throughout the magazine, this circa 1938 issue had an artist's rendition of what the new bridge would look like. The oil painting on the cover was done by Alfred Drahold, and the magazine was donated by Joe & Diane Zunno of J & J Collectibles in Roy, Wa. These nice folks bought the old Swan's Magazine Mart, which was located in Tacoma for decades.
A look at a small corner of one of the 1940 blueprints from the bridge engineer, Clark Eldridge.
This is the first 1939 blueprint of the set, showing a scale site plan for the Tacoma & Gig Harbor area including the Narrows waterway that the bridge crosses.
It is not known if the photo below was taken of the 1940 bridge under construction- or the 1950 bridge. In either event, it is a night-time view of the activities, with both shores lit up. It seems to be the 1940 bridge because the concrete plant can be seen near the Gig Harbor shore- as it was in 1939.
Gig Harbor had several cloth banners hanging from the 1940 Narrows bridge to celebrate the opening. Opening Day was on July 1 with the Gig Harbor celebrations happening on July 2; this being one of those banners. Gig Harbor was especially pleased that the bridge was built, as it meant a boost to the economy and travels to & from there.
A poster stamp was made to celebrate the events; the one below showing a military aircraft flying over the new bridge with a power boat below the bridge.
The Tacoma News Tribune proudly announced the opening of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which happened in conjunction with the opening ceremonies for McChord Airfield. This edition was published on July 1, 1940, and it featured a rather artistic rendering of the area, as Tacoma's downtown is nowhere near the bridge, and McChord Airfield is also a long distance away from this vicinity. Of course, there was not a giant soldier twice the height of the bridge either, so artistic license definately applied to this edition
The Official opening booklet for the 1940 bridge showed a slightly more accurate look, though it even added a girl standing in a field of flowers, and airplanes that weren't there. Also, the cover was done from a photo of the bridge before it was complete, as seen by the catwalks still being present, and cars traveling across. The catwalks were all removed well before opening day. The 1940 opening day ceremonies did include a battleship going under the bridge, and lots of dignitaries there.
Perhaps the most rare Opening booklet is this newly discovered Official Opening one seen below. It is very unusual in that it states the dates of June 30 to July 4 on the cover; which coincide with the combined celebrations of the Bridge and McChord Airfield, as well as the Lake Washington Floating bridge- but it makes no mention of anything except the Narrows bridge in the contents. The image of the cover and the next page below have been excellently re-worked by Mathew Hargreaves to look like new.
The inside cover page of the booklet announces the Governor's proclamation about the bridge. Again, thanks to Mathew Hargreaves for his work on digitally "cleaning up" the original images.
The page from the booklet seen below shows photos of the preliminary work to get the towers started.
This shot is a good example of the size of piers 4 and 5 with men standing on one of them.
Here is a look at one of the pre-made deck sections being raised into place. Notice the wooden construction of the railroad protection shield in the background. It could have been argued that if one of these fourty ton sections had dropped onto the wooden shield- it would have been crushed & not protected the railway tracks.
It was quite an event when the Narrows waterway was first spanned. The tremendous efforts required to accomplish the feat did not go unnoticed by the world. And the end results were sure to be noticed and talked about around the world.
To commemorate the bridge's opening a small number of matchbooks were produced that show the bridge along with the opening date. Most were not saved, so very few exist today. The matchbook below was discovered amongst an old collection of Tacoma matchbooks by Steve Hamilton of Columbian Opticians in Lakewood. It is only the 2nd known example, with the other cover being in a local Museum's collection.
Another rare matchbook is shown below, and because it only shows the artist depiction of the bridge (even though it states the date of July 1 in past tense)- it was most likely produced circa 1939.
Another indicator of this cover being from about 1939 is the lack of any mention of the dual Opening Ceremonies for the bridge and McChord Field which happened in 1940.
This is a rare First-day cover of the 1940 bridge. Postmarked on July 1, 1940 it again shows the same artist's depiction of the bridge. The sentiment of "A Dream Come True" shows just how much it meant to the communities in the area.
It was made in at least two color varieties, blue and green. The one below was never mailed.
A quite rare container is shown below. Only in production a short few months, not many glass bottles such as this survive today.
In order to list the various tolls depending on what type of vehicle was using the bridge, the Toll Schedule shown below was printed. It's actually amazing that they listed so many different kinds of possibilites- each having it's own fee.
The other side of the Toll Schedule was filled with facts about the bridge, and the cost.
This item is quite rare- being as they were only issued for a short few months, and most were used up and/or discarded. It is an original Toll Ticket Booklet that had 40 tickets for crossing the bridge in November of 1940. The above photo shows the cover, and th ephoto below shows the tickets remaining on the booklet- though I suspect most were sold individually over the years as collectibles with only these few remaining intact.
Shown below is an original toll receipt, with the amount paid being $1.00. As you can see from the list- this must have been a car with 4 people, or a truck with a gross weight of 5,001 lbs. or more. The toll ticket may be from the 1950 bridge; in which case the specs were changed. At that time $1.00 got a car with 5 people, or a truck with 6,001 lbs. across the bridge.
As part of the twin Opening Day events of the Gertie Bridge & McChord Field, this Tacoma Street Guide & Map was issued. More like a directory of businesses and city info facts, it is hard to find nowadays. Like most items that advertised the Gertie bridge- this was pulled from the store shelves right after the bridge failed.
Seen below is a souvenir pamphlet that commemorates the opening of the Narrows Bridge and McChord Field, dated from June 30th to July 4th of 1940. It lists the many events and celebrations that occured in Tacoma from downtown to McChord, and also in Gig Harbor, where they had the now-famous rooster races among other happenings. The last ferry boat ride happened on July 2nd- that is until the bridge collapsed in November, and the ferry was brought back into service.
Postcards are always a favorite among collectors because of their small size and ease of storage & display. This is an early one, circa 1939, of the 1940 bridge, which is ironically labelled as a photo when in reality it is an artist's rendering. The bridge had not yet been built, and the artist drew it as a 4-lane bridge, with the Gig Harbor roadway curving to the left. In fact this bridge was only a 2-lane, and the Gig Harbor road curves to the right.
An early Ellis photo of the 1940 bridge nearing completion is shown below. This real photo was taken at an extremely low tide on the Tacoma shore.
As part of the July 1940 celebration, McChord Field had it's own events & collectibles. The postal cover below is one such item that was made. It was specially marked by the Post Office with the cancel denoting the event date of July 3, and the location being McChord Field. This dedication was equally important as the bridge opening, but it was overshadowed by the events of the November bridge collapse, and the entry of the United States into World War II.
Here is one of the famous newspaper reports announcing the fall of the Narrows Bridge. This is the evening edition of the Tacoma Times on November 7, 1940. If you look closely at the group of 3 pictures on the front page, you will see that the top photo doesn't look the same as the middle & bottom photos. The top one came out with not enough contrast- the bridge towers were washed out, and not visible. So, before this edition went to the printers, someone at the newspaper took a pen and hand-drew the tower outline over the photo, but they didn't realize that they drew it wrong; the top tower strut was drawn below the top of the tower instead of even with it. Nevertheless, this was a scoop as journalists everywhere were rushing to get the news out. The newly completed bridge in Tacoma had collapsed!
Below is the original James Bashford photo that was used in the above newspaper report. It shows the actual tower as it was, but it seems the newspaper felt it could not be reproduced with good results, so it was "modified".
This is the following day's Tacoma Times newspaper, with photos of the monumental collapse remains, and the start of the finger-pointing. Clark Eldridge got in the first licks, and his quotes are clearly objecting to the State's handling & decisions to build the cheaper bridge- which was not what Eldridge wanted to build.
Every media entity wanted to be the first to publish the news, and the Seattle Post Intelligencer was no different. This newspaper claimed to have the first photos of the collapse, which, of course, was not true- especially seeing as this edition was dated the day after, on November 8. But the headlines across the country announced the demise of the bridge.
Governor Martin rushed from Olympia to see the remains, as seen in this Seattle P.I. photo. Whomever was present to see this sight was taken back by the appearance of hanging & twisted metal that was a roadway traveled by thousands of people just before this catastrophe.
In 1973 a group called Dust and Ashes recorded a song titled "The Ballad of Gallopin Gertie". Though it was not much of a hit at the time, the soundtrack seems fitting to be featured on our Home page.
The poster shown below was produced for the Tacoma History Museum's Narrows bridges exhibit in 2007. It featured the famous scene of Howard Clifford running off Galloping Gertie as it collapsed.
The 1950 Bridge Official opening booklet was much more accurate, and shows off the replacement bridge in lovely black-n-white photography. It is amazing how quick today's advancements happen compared to just 50 years ago, when things like photography hadn't changed much at all. They did have color photography in 1940, and some was taken of Galloping Gertie, but it was quite expensive then, so not much exists.
Below is an original newspaper- the Tacoma News Tribune's edition for the Opening Day. Even in 1950; which was well into the age of color photography, they felt it best to enhance the front page photo to make the bridge stand out from the surrrounding scenery. This actiually is a harder to find edition than some of the 1940 newspapers- as those were saved due to Galloping Gertie's collapse vesus the 1950 edition here which had little fanfare throughout the country.
The Washington Toll Bridge Authority produced a flier, shown below, which helped calm people's fears that the replacement bridge might encounter a similar fate as the old bridge. The flier described the differences & improvements between the two, and how the new bridge was designed to be much stronger.
A somewhat rare 1950 Bridge opening Guest ribbon is seen in the photo below. It is likely that these were given only to dignitaries and important people that were invited to participate in particular events, or restricted areas of the bridge during the celebrations. The general public probably did not have access to the ribbons, as very few were made, and even fewer exist today.
Tacoma was promoted in many ways, and one of the more popular attractions was the Narrows bridge. Here it is featured on a street map from Standard Oil Company's Chevron gas stations.
Here is one of a series of promo booklets titled "The Greater Tacoma Story ... Land of Destiny". It is filled with the local history & places to see in & around Tacoma. This edition featured a beautiful photo of the 1950 bridge from the Gig Harbor shore.
Shown below is an artist's hand painted plate of the 1950 bridge. Many of these type of plates were done in a foreign country such as Japan, as evidenced by the mis-spelling of the word Washington as "Washinton". People in foreign countries would be given a photo of an object, or place that they then hand-painted on a plate or a similar collectible item.
Here's another hand-painted plate & saucer, this set with the correct spelling.
A fairly new process combines older real-life things with today's technology; the wooden plaque below was made with a laser, which is called laser engraving. This results in very fine detailing, and the walnut wood makes it look very impressive. The scene is the 1950 bridge with reflections of it in the water below & Mt. Rainier in the background.
Decorative glasses come in all kinds of themes, and the Narrows bridge glass seen here is part of an eight glass set which featured places around the Pacific Northwest.
Souvenir spoons have always been popular collectible items, this one features the 1950 bridge and Mount Rainier on the handle of the spoon.
Here is a 1950 bridge opening celebration pinback. These were given out as a commemorative to the general public, and because they were made in large quantities, they can be found relatively easily today.
A more recent pin is shown below, from the Classical Glass Corvette Club. This one features the typical Tacoma landmarks; Mt. Rainier, the Narrows bridge, and of course, a 1976 Corvette.
Here is a First Day Cover commemorating the Opening Day of the 1950 bridge. Collectors purchase covers like this, then mail them to themselves so the Post Office can add the cancellation verifying the date. Of note is the fact that the stamp on this cover is not about the Tacoma Narrows bridge, it is a Centennial commemorative stamp made for the relations between Canada and the United States, issued in 1948. The bridge shown on the stamp was actually the 1st bridge across Niagara Falls, built in 1855. The cover's hand-drawn bridge scene on the left side is, of course, the Tacoma Narrows bridge.
Shown below is a rare license plate topper from the Veterans of Foreign Wars group located by the Narrows bridge. License plate toppers were popular for some time, announcing the car owner's pride in the group that he was a member of. And they were, as the name says, mounted above a car's state license plate.
Another VFW item here- a hat that proudly states the start of Post 10018 was the same year as Opening Day for the replacement bridge, 1950.
Two group pins are seen here, the left is from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 10018 located by the Narrows bridge, celebrating their 50th Anniversary, which incidentally is dated 1950-2000, the opening year of the 1950 bridge. The right pin is the Sons of Norway District No. 2, celebrating their Golden Biennial Convention.
The Red Cross of Tacoma/ Pierce County chose the 1950 bridge as the focal point of this attractive pin, with Mount Rainier in the background.
The Lions Club also featured the Narrows bridge in their pin.
A local eatery located at the original site of the Highland Hills shopping center was the Towers restaurant. Another business has since taken it's place; the Towers bowling lanes & restaurant- which is reportedly being renovated for another genration of customers.
A hard to find item, this was placed on auto windshields to state that one was affiliated with a group, this being the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is dated 1959 and features downtown Tacoma, a Totem Pole, as well as the Narrows bridge.
Another window decal is seen below- this one features a romantic look at the bridge on a sunny day.
A sought-after collectible is this nifty cigarette lighter that was made circa 1950 to celebrate the opening of the bridge.
And to go with the lighter, one had to have the appropriate ashtray. Made by Tacoma Rubber Stamp Company, this tray has a highly detailed, embossed bridge scene & lettering.
These are two of the commemorative plate colors that Peoples Department Store in downtown Tacoma ordered to be made from Vernon Kilns. They had them in the Peoples stores to celebrate the opening of the 1950 bridge.
The Vernon Kilns company also made another souvenir item that is much rarer- an ashtray. Though they were made in some quantities, the amount manufactured was much less than the plates- and this is the only ashtray that I have ever seen.
Here is another plate with a depiction of Mount Rainier and the bridge. The plate is circa 1950, and it was made by Balfour Ceramic Company in Massachusetts.
This is a most unique item. It was, of course inspired by the Narrows bridge and perhaps was a classroom assignment- or maybe just an artist's desire to create this commemorative. In any case- it is a hand made plate of heavy pottery, and it was decorated with the bridge and Mount Rainier. The artist simply signed the rear with her name: Irene Schack.
A highly unusual, and most confusing token is shown here. It took much time & contacting nearly every knowledgeable person available who knew about the Narrows bridge before this mystery was solved. This token features the 1940 Tacoma Narrows bridge within the 1937 logo of the Washington Toll Bridge Authority on the front, the reverse says Port Washington Narrows Bridge Project. It was actually made circa 1959 for the Bremerton, Washington bridge on Warren Avenue that crosses the Narrows waterway which leads to Port Washington, hence the name Narrows Bridge. But it does feature the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on it, as the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton does not look anything like this.
Coin collecting is a very popular hobby, this wooden token is from the local coin collecting club, with a great depiction of the bridge featured.
A collectible felt banner that was sold in any number of tourist shops, the popular theme to promote Tacoma was the combination of the Narrows bridge and Mount Rainier- almost always placed together in advertising & tourist items, but which really aren't next to each other. You can't even see Mt. Rainier from the bridge unless you were on top of the towers, the Mountain is over the hill from Tacoma. The view that can be seen, and which really would have been more accurate is the views of the Olympic mountain range from the bridge.
Here's another felt banner with a little different scene & lettering.
Some popular postcards of the 1950 bridge are shown below, with the first two being Sturdy Gertie during construction, with the catwalks and cranes still in place. Next is a night time look at the bridge during construction while the catwalks were lit up. Lastly are three of the completed bridge.
This is an advertising brochure of model homes newly built (at the time) in the Narrows area. After the bridge was finished in 1950, it led to a boon in home building & sales on the hills overlooking the water & bridge. Prior to that the hillsides were densly populated with trees & wildlife.
Many local businesses had the bridge advertised on their literature, including this unusual combination post card/menu from the Crawford's Sea Grille & Steak House.
This item is most unusual. It is labeled a Tacomagram from the Tacoma Chapter of the Administrative Management Society. The entire item is a decal that was made to stick onto something, and it features a beautiful shot of the 1950 bridge.
Some collectible commemoratives from the 2007 bridge Opening Day, a brass token celebrating all 3 bridges, an I Cut The Ribbon strip that was available to visitors on the bridge, and a tee shirt with the Opening Day logo.
This is a bridge "Passport" that Opening Day visitors could get inkstamped at stations set up along the way as they crossed the bridge, verifying that, yes indeed, they walked the length of the mile+ long bridge.
A Poster card, or oversize postcard showing a side view of the 2007 bridge, and featuring a special inkstamp with the same logo and proclaiming the Opening Day.
Here is a Opening Day card from one of the bridge consultants, GeoEngineers.
The genuine Post Office stamp seen below is a very Rare one, donated by Bob Lodge of Wenatchee, Washington; who had a small number of them made by the P.O. as part of their first series of Experimental personalized stamps program in 2004. The image was selected by Bob, of an artist's depiction with the 2007 bridge shown alongside the 1950 bridge- 3 years before the 2007 bridge was finished. Thanks to Bob, for the donation, and his remarkable foresight in selecting this image & time frame, and in such a unique Post Office program. Bob is a collector of bridge stamps & covers that deal with bridges across America, and which have been sent across bridges. If you have something he might be interested in, please click on the Send A Message button at the top of this page, and I can pass it along to him. Thanks!
The Washington State Department of Transportation & Michael Beard created this quite large size poster. It features a look at the history of the 3 bridges, the 1940 on the left, the 1950 in the middle, and the partially built 2007 bridge on the right, with actual photos on the lower portion.
A new postcard that shows both of the bridges is seen below. With the new bridge comes a whole new interest in collectibles that feature the twin bridges of the Tacoma Narrows.
This is a Road Use Enforcement uniform patch that shows a beautiful scene of both the 1950 and the new 2007 bridges, with Mt. Rainier in the background.
Another patch featuring the 1940 Galloping Gertie bridge is this Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from Tacoma's Resident Office. It includes the Tacoma Dome, Mt. Rainier with an eagle, and the US flag.
Another token featuring the twin Narrows bridges is shown here. It is very similar to the Opening Day token above.
People often get confused when looking at Tacoma Narrows Bridge memorabilia, as to when items were made, commemorating which bridge at what time? A fairly easy rule-of-thumb is: look at the depiction of the bridge on the memorabilia, do the Towers have 2 struts (or cross-members) above the roadway, or do they have 3 struts? Do the struts have "X"'s on them or not? Refer to the drawings of both bridges below. The 1940 bridge is distinctly different than the 1950 bridge in this feature. The 1940 bridge was made with 2 struts above the road and no "X" on the struts, the 1950 bridge has 3 struts above the road and has "X"'s on them. There is sometimes a big difference in rarity as well as value in 1940 Narrows bridge memorabilia, as these items were made for a very short time (the bridge only lasted 4 months), but the 1950 bridge memorabilia was made for a longer period of time and in larger quantities. Whatever you collect or are interested in, I wish you much enjoyment!