Today in History: Nov. 7

The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed on this date in 1940. The bridge was opened to traffic in July of that year, and it was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world up until the day it collapsed, but it moved vertically in the wind, sometimes violently so, sometimes like a piece of clothing hung out to dry. (The bridge is seen bending, twisting in the photo at top.)

The bridge was built too narrow and constructed with shallow girders, which is why it waved in the breeze. Thus, even while it was under construction, the workers who were building it nicknamed it “Galloping Gertie” for its lack of stability. Engineers at the University of Washington were hired to find a solution to the oscillations, and they completed their first studies on November 2, 1940.

The suggested solution was to add vanes to make the bridge more aerodynamic. Nature did not afford the engineers a chance to pursue this solution.

On November 7, 1940, in 40 MPH winds, the history of whipping in the breeze finally overtook the bridge and it flew apart. No one was on the bridge at the time, but a local newspaper editor was forced to abandon his car and his pet dog on the bridge when the shaking grew too strong.


A replacement for the bridge was built at the same spot in 1950. It remains there to this day.

* * * *
Presidents of the United States elected on November 7: James Monroe (1820), Zachary Taylor, Rutherford Hayes (1876: Samuel Tilden won more votes, but lost), Woodrow Wilson (1916), Franklin Roosevelt (1944), Richard Nixon (1972), George W. Bush (2000: Vice President Al Gore won more votes, but lost).

* * * *
Jeanette Rankin was elected as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of Montana 100 years ago today. She was the first woman elected to Congress.

* * * *
Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced his first retirement from basketball 25 years ago today. He informed the world that he had tested positive for HIV, but that he planned to “go on living for a long time,” which is a prediction that has come true:

* * * *
Eleanor Roosevelt died on this date in 1962. Joe Frazier died five years ago today.

* * * *
Albert Camus was born on this date in 1913. Philip Morrison was born 101 years ago today. Al Hirt was born 94 years ago today. Dame Joan Sutherland was born on this date in 1926.

* * * *
Billy Graham is 98 today. Jim Kaat is 78. Joni Mitchell is 73.

Stephen Greenblatt is 72. Judy Tenuta is 60. Lorde is 20.

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