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Bridge designer Joseph Baermann Strauss

Joseph Baermann Strauss designed the Henry Ford Bridge, and is most famous for his creation of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. During his lifetime he designed more than 400 bridges. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1870, Mr. Strauss initially worked at a firm in his hometown designing bridges for various transportation applications. The firm worked on a design for a "bascule" bridge, which had roots in the medieval drawbridge of old European castles. This new concept, which borrowed from the old design operated much like a seesaw and required a system of counterweights to balance the lifting of the heavy bridge spans. At the time, most bascule designs used an expensive iron counterweight design. Strauss replaced the iron with significantly less expensive concrete material and launched a profitable bridge design company of his own.

Strauss' Single Bascule Bridge (1950)

Strauss eventually opened an office of his successful Chicago-based Strauss Bascule Bridge Company in San Francisco. Prior to World War II, the company designed nearly all of the bascule bridges built in California, as well as bridges elsewhere in the U.S. In addition to the Henry Ford Avenue Bridge, in 1911 Strauss designed a single-leaf bascule bridge for the Port over the tidelands of the West Basin (this bridge was removed in 1955). Strauss died in Los Angeles in 1938-- 14 years following the completion of the Henry Ford Bridge.

Click the arrow to watch a video
about ships passing through the bridge


The bridge operator (also known as the bridge tender) manually operated the Henry Ford Bridge. The operator of the former bridge was a Los Angeles Harbor Department employee who decided when to open and close the bridge for rail traffic. The operator took into consideration many factors, such as current and anticipated maritime traffic, weather conditions, bridge maintenance requirements, and the presence of people on the bridge. Once the operator made the decision to close the bridge, he ran a series of checks and safety measures to ensure a successful closing. The operation of the bridge required that the operator take several steps to be sure the two leaves closed correctly and the train was able to proceed across the bridge. In order to determine the position of the leaves, the operator used visual references including a series of "guide bolts" along the pedestrian walkway and a series of lights. A skilled operator could cycle the bridge in 2-3 minutes.

Click the arrow to watch the video
about bridge operation


Communication among the bridge operators, ship captains (and pilots), and train engineers were crucial for safe passage up and down Cerritos Channel and across the Henry Ford Bridge. The bridge saw a large volume of railroad crossings following its completion in 1924. This level of traffic required the bridge operator to balance the needs of the ship captains with the needs of the railroad engineers. Accidents were kept to a minimum by using a series of visual and audible signals among the ships, trains, and bridge operators. Port officials recorded few accidents were recorded during the 72 years of operation of the bridge.