Every day, oodles of visitors from across the globe snap thousands of images of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Across the waterfronts of two counties, amateur photographers jockey to position loved ones somewhere in the frame along with the famous span.
But back when the bridge was under construction, there wasn’t a girth of photographers waving Iphones and instant cameras. Some of the most memorable images of that time were captured by an amateur photographer, named Ted Huggins. Huggins worked in the marketing wing of Standard Oil of California, the forbearer of San Ramon-based Chevron. The Berkeley native helped organize the groundbreaking for Golden Gate Bridge.
At the ceremony, Huggins realized the Golden Gate Bridge District couldn’t afford to hire a full-time photographer to take publicity shots. So Huggins went to his bosses and suggested he do it.
“He was assigned to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge under construction,” said Huggins
daughter Carol Huggins Trabert.
Huggins spent three and a half years photographing the building of the bridge. He climbed cables, he waded into the Bay, and even took pictures from a blimp. Using infrared film, he logged thousands of photos of the bridge.
“I guess you could call my father an over achiever,” said Trabert. “He was out here night and day taking these pictures.”
Huggins’ pictures not only captured the bridge in various states of assembly, they also showcased workers toiling away.
“They also convey the resilience of the American worker in this region,” said Chevron historian John Harper, “during one of the worst possible economic times the country had faced.”
To capture his images, Huggins placed himself under the same risks as the workers, scaling great heights to capture his subjects. His daughter said his safety gear consisted of a leather helmet and work boots.
The images made their way to company newsletters, newspapers and magazines. His greatest coup was in 1937 as the bridge was about to open. Life Magazine sent a team of crack photographers to take pictures of the bridge. When it came to the cover, the magazine decided on Huggins’ work.
“Ted Huggins was able to beat out a number of other life photographers to capture the prize cover page,” said Harper.
The photographers own family was on hand as the bridge opened in May of 1937 with a public bridge walk. Huggins had suggested the walk after discovering that the Brooklyn Bridge had held one at its opening in 1883.
Huggins’ wife and daughter were among the crowd walking across. “I don’t know if I was in a stroller or what, but people have told me I was the first child to cross,” said Huggins Trabert.
The elder Huggins died in 1989 at the age of 97. Huggins Trabert said he remained busy his entire life. She said he carried a sense of pride that he’d played a part in bringing the bridge to the world.
“He loved the bridge,” she said.
The photos were donated by Standard Oil to the Golden Gate Bridge District, which then donated them to the California Historical Society. The images can be seen and downloaded at www.tedhuggins.com