Called the coathanger for its distinctive appearance, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest steel arch bridge in the world. Francis Greenway first proposed a bridge spanning the Sydney Harbour in 1815 in order to facilitate travel. The bridge itself was not commissioned until 1890, however. By 1900, architects had begun submitting proposals for the design of the bridge. The final design, which included a railway, footpaths, and six lanes for traffic, was finally completed in 1916, but the onset of World War I delayed progress on the bridge until 1922.
Official construction on the bridge began in 1924. The bridge was manufactured in sections, and the majority of the steel used to reinforce the concrete was imported from England. A total of 1,400 labourers worked for a total of eight years to complete the project and 16 of them died during that time. The bridge was formally opened with a 21-gun salute and an RAAF fly-past on 19 March 1932. Jack Lang, who was then the Premier of New South Wales, officiated during the ceremonies. The bridge was one of the most impressive feats of engineering of its time and continues to be a landmark today.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge was designed to be both decorative and utilitarian as it connected Sydney to the North Shore. The initial toll for crossing was three pence for a horseback rider and six pence for a car. Today, bicycle riders and walkers can cross for no charge, as can northbound drivers. Southbound drivers must pay a small toll. An average of 11,000 travellers crossed the bridge in the 1930s, whereas more than 150,000 vehicles currently cross every day. In 1992, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was completed and opended to improve traffic flow and decrease congestion on the bridge.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge has been the site of many historic events, including the Walk for Reconciliation, which took place in 2000. Nearly one million Australians participated in this movement in support of Aboriginal Australians. The bridge also featured prominently in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, during which it was used to display the colourful Olympic rings and later as the site for the closing ceremony fireworks.
Although the bridge continues to serve its originally intended purpose, it has also become a tourist destination. Visitors flock to the structure to visit the exhibition in the Southeast Pylon, where they can learn more about the bridge’s history and design, or they can climb to the top of the bridge for an unforgettable view of Sydney Harbour below. The bridge climb is not for the faint of heart, but it attracts thousands of people every year. Since 1998, those who are over the age of 12 and healthy enough to climb ladders are eligible to participate in the climb. Climbers are tethered to a safety line and led 1,500 metres over the arch of the bridge.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a bridge of the world and for the world.