Tacoma, WA Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse, Nov 1940


A few weeks ago, the Washington State Toll Bridge Authority made application to the army (which is in charge of rivers and harbors throughout the land) for permission to dump the 3,500 tons of steel cable from the Tacoma Narrows bridge into Puget Sound.

Back of this was the tragic story of the collapse of the Tacoma bridge in November, 1940, “Galloping Gertie” as the infant bridge was called because she waved like a flag in a gale every time the wind whistled, playing crack-the-whip once to often and the flooring ripped loose from its overhead moorings and crashed into the bay.

For approximately a year, the thick suspension cables dangled tons of supporting cables in the wind, while Washingtonians debated what was to be done about rebuilding the bridge. Originally, it was a Federal Works Project, but rebuilding it was another matter. It was only some weeks ago that final arrangements were made for private capital to construct a broader bridge that would withstand the wildest gales that rip across the Narrows.

Immediately, the problem of disposing of 7,500,000 pounds of “useless” cable presented itself. A survey was made and it was discovered that the cost of salvaging the cable (hundreds of strands of thick steel wire drawn tightly together and encased in a galvanized tube) would exceed considerably the cost of steel scrap in the open market. Hence, the decision to roll the cable off the saddles on the towers and drop it into the 40-foot depths of the Narrows.

The decision had been tentatively approved when Carlton S. Proctor, chairman of the committee on steel conservation and reclamation of the engineers’ defense board, discovered it. For once the wheels of OPM ground swiftly.

Within a few hours OPM had a telegram from the Washington Bridge Authority saying “An insurance settlement has been made on the bridge… the Washington Bridge Authority will offer for sale all scrap metal which can be made available….”

That was enough for OPM and 3,500 tons of steel scrap was rescued from being oblivion. Just what it will cost hasn’t been determined yet. It may be far above the “celling” placed on scrap steel prices, but OPM is not particularly interested in the price. It is more interested in the fact that once salvaged the scrap can be converted into 100 light or medium tanks, into 200 four-ton trucks, or into 600 16-inch shells for the battleships of our navy.

Daily Chronicle, Centralia, WA 4 Dec 1941