Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapses – This Week in History

On November 7, 1940, just four months after its completion, the world’s third-longest suspension bridge snaps in a 42 mph wind and collapses into the waters below. This was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a slender, 2-lane creation whose tendency to visibly sway and wobble earned it the name “Galloping Gertie.”

World's Third Largest Suspension Bridge CollapsesWorld’s Third Largest Suspension Bridge Collapses Fri, Nov 8, 1940 – Page 1 · Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Blair, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

A single car was on the bridge at the time of the incident, occupied by a newspaper copy editor named Leonard Coatsworth and his cocker spaniel. When the bridge began to violently tip one way and then the other, he abandoned the car—and, after a quick, failed coercion effort, the dog—and crawled his way across the bridge to shore before the bridge snapped. (You can read a full account of his experience in his own words here.)

The dog, still inside the car when it slid off the broken bridge, was the single casualty of the disaster.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse, 1940Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse, 1940 Thu, Nov 28, 1940 – 3 · The Springville Herald (Springville, Utah, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Though a firm consensus hasn’t been reached as to the exact reasons for the collapse, the Tacoma Bridge incident led to better aerodynamics in bridge design and, eventually, the implementation of mandatory wind-tunnel testing. In 1950, a new and improved Tacoma Narrows Bridge (nicknamed “Sturdy Gertie”) was constructed with wider lanes and better resistance to wind.

Old Tacoma Bridge vs New Tacoma BridgeOld Tacoma Bridge vs New Tacoma Bridge Sun, Nov 12, 1950 – Page 46 · Daily Press (Newport News, Newport News, Virginia, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Read more about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse with a search on Newspapers.com.

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2 thoughts on “Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapses – This Week in History

  1. I remember seeing a newsreel on TV about this years ago. It was a miracle that the man escaped. I feel for his dog but there wasn’t time to argue.

  2. Wowser! The construction workers knew the bridge was unstable right from the start. It’s unbelievable that it was ever allowed to open.

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