The Lengthy History of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Harbour BridgeThe Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in the whole of Australia. Set against the busy skyline of Sydney, it rises up in a steel arch over the city’s harbour. Along it, train services, cyclists, and pedestrians whizz between Sydney’s Central Business District and the North Shore. Together with the harbour and the famous silhouette of the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge graces many an Australian postcard, and forms one of the most recognisable views in the world.

The design of the bridge is fascinating. Nicknamed “The Coathanger” because of its arched shape, it was the brainchild of British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd. They erected the bridge in 1932, which was heavily inspired by the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City. Today, it boasts the titles of sixth longest arch bridge in the world and, more impressively, the tallest steel arch bridge (it measures 134m from its peak down to water level).

The History of Sydney Harbour Bridge

Plans for a bridge across Sydney harbour had been in discussion since 1815, when Francis sydney harbour bridge - duskGreenway, a convict and famous architect, proposed an initial idea to the governor of the time. After repeatedly pressing his ideas on the governor, Greenway then wrote to The Australian, the country’s most prolific newspaper at the time, arguing that a bridge would “give an idea of strength and magnificence that would reflect credit and glory on the colony and the Mother Country.”

SYdney harbour walkDespite Greenway’s persistence, nothing came of the endeavour. The idea never really went away, though, and throughout the years that followed, numerous proposals and suggestions were put forward for a bridge of some kind. It wasn’t until 1840 that naval architect Robert Brindley suggested, unlike the other proposals, that the bridge should float. Sketches were drawn up, but again nothing came of the idea. A similar pattern continued to play out towards the end of the 19th Century.

Then, in 1900, the Lyne government committed themselves to creating a brand new Central railway station. During this time, they also put together a competition for the design and construction of the harbour bridge. The competition was open to the whole world and receive numerous designs and ideas, but again, for a number of reasons, the concept fell flat on its face.

The bridge was almost forgotten about during World War I, but afterwards momentum picked up once more. After putting out a tender for proposals, the government looked over the 26 submitted and, on the 24th March 1924, selected the design submitted by Dorman Long and Co.


Find out more about the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a Sydney City Tour today!