The Tacoma Narrows Bridge first opened on July 1st, 1940. Many construction designs had been considered by the local government, including those of Joseph B. Strauss (who would later go on to be chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge), but New York engineer Leon Moisseiff eventually won out in the end. Mostly, because his proposal was the cheapest.
Instead of using 25-foot girders to provide structural support for the bridge, he decided to use girders that were only 8-feet in length. The aesthetic was much more visually pleasing, but also not very rigid – after construction was complete, it soon became apparent that a mild gust of wind could cause portions of the platform to rise and fall in rapid succession. The bridge came to be known as “Galloping Gertie”, and people who dared to drive upon it stated that the experience was not unlike riding a roller coaster.
On November 7, 1940, the bridge finally collapsed. According to eyewitness accounts, the bridge began to sway more violently than normal, slowly gaining in momentum as it pitched from side to side like a drunken earthworm. People began to lose control of their cars, resulting in several crashes, and they had to flee on foot while the concrete cracked behind them. They just barely made it to the other side when everything shuddered and plunged down into the icy waters below.
Remarkably, no human lives were lost, though a cocker-spaniel named Tubby was sadly killed in the collapse. There would also be numerous problems with collecting the insurance on the bridge, because the companies stated that the designers were at fault (they were), though 80% would eventually be recouped. On a side note, you can see footage of the collapse after any episode of the TV program Drawn Together. It’s the video slogan of Double Hemm Productions.