See Photos of the George Washington Bridge Getting Built—And an Early Traffic Jam

Oct 23, 2015

When the George Washington Bridge was dedicated on Oct. 24, 1931–84 years ago this weekend–the 3,500 ft. span connecting Manhattan and New Jersey was the longest bridge of its kind in the world. Even more incredible, it was built under budget and ahead of schedule (the bridge took almost exactly four years to complete).

So it was only fitting that New York and New Jersey pulled out all the stops for the dedication ceremony, as TIME reported:

A warship lay anchored in the river. Airplanes streamed about. Soldiers, sailors, marines and police paraded on to the bridge. Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his predecessor, Alfred Emanuel Smith of New York motored to the bridge centre, where they encountered Governor Morgan Foster Larson of New Jersey. Mayor James John Walker of New York City stayed away. He went, instead, to the Colgate-New York University football game.

Two long ribbons tied by a bow marked the centre of the span and the boundary of two sovereign States. Governor Roosevelt grasped one end of the bow, Governor Larson the other. The ribbons parted. A police lieutenant fell on his face, in a heart attack. A patrolman fainted. Two schoolboys roller-skated across the bridge from the Manhattan side, the first passengers from New York. A New Jersey woman pushed her baby carriage to Manhattan, first passenger from her State. The bridge was open.

The very next day, as the photos above show, the traffic began. But the George Washington Bridge did far more than frustrate drivers. On the other side of the country in San Francisco, officials had long been considering their own towering cable bridge. The GWB made it seem possible, TIME reported. The Golden Gate Bridge opened about six years later.

Read the full story from 1931, here in the TIME Vault: Biggest Bridge

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