Lessons From the Failure of a Great Machine

Lessons From the Failure of a Great Machine

How Galloping Gertie collapsed left us a lasting design legacy.

Washington State Department of Transportation

 

The Damage

A bridge inspector checks the damaged cable WSDOT
A bridge inspector checks the damaged cable WSDOT

Main cables: During the collapse, the main suspension cables were thrown violently side to side, twisted, and tossed 100 feet into the air. They slipped from their positions in the cable saddles atop each tower. And, they fell hard on the approach spans. On the north cable at mid-span, where the cable band loosened, it broke more than 350 wires. Other wires were severely stressed and distorted. The main cables were a total loss, but salvage was undertaken. Their only value was as scrap metal.

Suspender cables: The violent collapse broke many suspender cables. Some were lost, some severely damaged, and some undamaged. Their only value now was as scrap metal.

View of damaged cables and towers looking west, February 1943 WSDOT
View of damaged cables and towers looking west, February 1943 WSDOT
View from below the deck at buckled steel beams WSDOT
View from below the deck at buckled steel beams WSDOT
M3-5 Sagging east side span GHM, Bashford 2795
M3-5 Sagging east side span GHM, Bashford 2795

Towers: The main towers (West Tower, #4; and East Tower, #5), including the bracing struts, were twisted and bent. Stress beyond the elastic limit of the metal resulted in buckling and permanent distortion. Their only value now was as scrap metal.

Deck-Floor System: Not surprisingly, the concrete and steel of the center span that now lay on the bottom of the Narrows was deemed a total loss. The remainder of the broken concrete on the side spans needed removal. The floor system had sections that were bent and overstressed. Their only value now was as scrap metal.

Side Spans: The loss of the center section, followed by the dropping of the side spans, caused substantial damage. The events stressed and distorted the plate girders and floor beams. Some buckled beyond repair.

Piers: Both the West Pier (#4) and the East Pier (#5) sustained no damage. The collapse of the center span caused partial sheering of rivets that attached the towers to the tops of the piers.

Anchorages: The anchorages for the main cables were undamaged. For building a replacement bridge, removal of part of the concrete would be necessary in order to spin the new main cables.

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