26 Interesting Facts About the Sydney Harbour Bridge You Didn’t Know

People from all over the world often see this impressive structure during New Year countdowns as a part of the stunning backdrop of a majestic fireworks show.  

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a key thoroughfare that connects the central business district and the suburbs located north of the harbour. This bridge has become a national icon and a representative landmark of Australia. 

Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunrise

More than being just a bridge, it carries loads of stories. Check out these 26 interesting facts about the Sydney Harbour Bridge you didn’t know. 

Table of Contents

1. The locals have an adorable nickname for the bridge. 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is known for its majestic arch.  But for the locals, it seems to remind them of something very familiar.  

Hence, the birth of the quirky nickname, the “Coathanger”!  

In fact, some souvenir shops sell coat hangers, in the shape of the ‘coathanger’ itself! Now that is one tourist spot you’ll actually get to bring home with you!

2. It used to be the widest long-span bridge in the world. 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge’s main deck is 49 meters wide.  

It has eight traffic lanes, two railway lines and a dedicated bike path on the western side, and a pedestrian walkway on the eastern side.  

For 80 years, it held the record of being the widest long-span bridge. But it was beaten by Canada’s 65-meter wide Port Mann Bridge in 2012. 

(The Port Mann Bridge would then be replaced by the East Span of California’s San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge by 2013, with its more than 78 meters width.) 

dusk view of sydney harbour bridge

3. The Sydney Harbour Bridge has ‘sisters’. 

If you are in New York, you might get confused about why you are seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge there.  

That is actually the Hell’s Gate Bridge. It was completed in 1916 and was historically noted as Dr JJC Bradfield’s inspiration.  

Another similar-looking structure is the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England. The design was modelled from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and construction started two years after the Sydney one commenced. But the English bridge was completed earlier since it was only one-third of the size of the Coathanger. 

4. The proposal to build a bridge across the harbour was initiated more than 100 years before the construction started.

Just how old is the Sydney Harbour Bridge? It is not even a century old! 

The turning of the first sod or the groundbreaking ceremony took place 28th of July in 1923. Construction officially ended on January 19, 1932. It was officially opened to the public and declared safe for traffic by the 19th of March in 1932, 8 years after the construction commenced.    

But who would have thought that it was a 108-year-old idea?   

It was way back in 1815 when the suggestion of building a bridge across the harbour was first mentioned. It was by a certain convict architect named Francis Greenway. 

From the 1850s to 1890s, different proposals for a harbour crossing were submitted and examined. 

Some proposals included a cast-iron bridge, a floating bridge and even a tunnel!  Eight schemes were considered and a Royal Commission also created a list of criteria for this proposed crossing. 

The project had to be delayed due to World War I. But by 1922, funding for the construction was finally secured and the rest is history. 

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay

5. The designer controversy: Bradfield vs Freeman

Records credit the initial design and concept of the bridge to Dr JJC Bradfield, the project’s chief engineer. However, the English firm Dorman Long & Co. Ltd was awarded the construction contract and they hired Ralph Freeman. He made the final and more detailed bridge design.

Reports say that the two allegedly had a bitter rivalry. Whose contribution was more significant? Who should be given credit as the bridge’s designer?

The Institute of Civil Engineers had to step in between Bradfield and Freeman’s dispute and threaten sanctions to both. The New South Wales Government also started an investigation, but the results were not published. 

The bridge’s official plaque carries both their names.  

6. ‘The Iron Lung’ was another nickname for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

Building the bridge opened up numerous employment opportunities, providing income for workers to support their families.  

This was back when Australia was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. The bridge was also dubbed as “The Iron Lung,” being one of the country’s largest employment projects at that time. 

About 1,600 workers were involved in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  

This number included architects, engineers, carpenters, boilermakers, stonemasons, draughtsmen, joiners, riveters, crane drivers and a lot more. And these were not just Australian workers, some were even from Scotland, Italy, Ireland and America. 

7. 16 people perished in the course of constructing the bridge. 

Truly not for the faint-hearted, workers were about 90 meters above the water.  There were no harnesses, safety barriers or protective equipment, and the steel can get quite slippery at times.  

Sixteen men were the recorded casualties. Fourteen were working on the bridge and other work sites, while two perished at the Moruya quarries.  

It was also noted that some workers suffered from long-term health issues. This included hearing problems since they were exposed to constant noise, without any ear protection. 

Aerial view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

8. A man was awarded a medal for surviving a fall from the bridge. 

October 1930, Vincent Kelly accidentally lost his footing and fell about 55 meters down to the harbour. 

Since he was an experienced diver, he managed to somersault and plunged into the water feet first. He also managed to surface and swim back to safety.

Despite the scare, Kelly survived. But he had to deal with shock and some broken ribs. He even went back to work about two weeks later. 

With this, he was awarded a gold-plated metal from Dorman Long and Co. and a watch from the Minister of Public Works. 

9. The bridge is 1,149 meters long.  

The bridge passes through Port Jackson aka the Sydney Harbour, connecting Miles Point on the north and Dawes Point on the south.  

From the approaches, the bridge spans a total length of 1,149 meters. It also has a shipping clearance of 49 meters.  

10. The north and south sides of the arch first ‘met’ in 1930. 

Since the water in the harbour was too deep to maintain temporary supports, the arch had to be built in halves, with each side simultaneously constructed from both shores.

And on August 19, 1930, 10:00 pm, the sides of the arch were finally joined. 

After the arch was completed, vertical hangers were then installed, which was needed to build the bridge deck.  

Arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

11. The arch’s height changes depending on the temperature.

The arch measures 503 meters long, and its highest point is 134 meters above mean sea level.  

But here’s one more interesting tidbit:  the arch may rise or fall up to 18 centimeters!  This is not magic, but actually just a case of the bridge expanding or contracting due to the temperature being too hot or too cold. 

12. Steel used for the bridge was primarily sourced from England. 

80 percent of the steel used during the construction were derived by Dorman Long Co. & Ltd from their mills in England. These were flown halfway around the world to Australia. The rest of the steel were sourced locally in New South Wales. 

A massive structure like this steel arch bridge is quite an engineering feat during that time. There is no doubt that it needed an extraordinary amount of raw materials.  Let’s check what the Sydney Harbour Bridge is made of!

  • Steel – 52,800 tonnes.  
  • Concrete – 95,000 cubic meters
  • Granite – 17,000 cubic meters
  • Rock – 122,000 cubic meters were excavated for the foundation. 
  • Paint – 272,000 liters just for the initial three coats. 
  • Rivets – 6,000,000
Steelwork of Sydney Harbour Bridge

13. The rivets weighed a total of 3,200 tonnes. 

For those without any idea about engineering or construction, the Oxford Dictionary defines a rivet as a metal pin that is used to fasten two pieces of leather, metal, etc. together.  

To build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, they used 6 million rivets, weighing a total of 3,200 tonnes. The largest rivet used was 395 millimeters long and weighed 3.5 kilograms.

But what makes all this rivet business even more amazing? Each of these rivets was Australian-made and was manually driven by hand in the process of constructing the bridge. 

14. The bridge was fully paid 65 years after the groundbreaking ceremony. 

Building this bridge over the harbour was quite an ambitious and expensive project.  How much did the Sydney Harbour Bridge cost? 

It was recorded to be £4,238,839. But including all the other expenses like building the approaches, land resumptions and interest, the final cost may have reached £10,000,000! That’s a lot of zeroes right there!

In today’s money, that figure is estimated to be at 1.5 billion Australian dollars.  

The bridge was fully paid in 1988, 65 years after the construction started and 56 years since it was opened to the public. 

15. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is not toll-free, even from before. 

Driving a vehicle to cross the bridge when it first opened, would cost 6 pence. It would cost you 3 pence less if you were to cross the bridge while riding your horse.  

Now, the toll costs about $2.50 to $4.00 for drivers and vehicles. The amount varies on the time of day, peak or non-peak hours. Important tip:  It is charged electronically, and there are no cash booths! 

16. 1 million pedestrians crossed the bridge during the opening. 

New South Wales’ Premier Jack Lang wanted the whole of Sydney to be a part of the opening celebrations, so he declared this day to be a public holiday.  

A lot was prepared, like the opening ceremony, a procession, and a pageant.  An estimated number of 1 million people crossed the bridge that day. 

It was said to be the largest crowd gathered in Sydney at that time. 

Pedestrian walkway at Sydney Harbour Bridge

17. The opening ceremony drama: Lang vs de Groot. 

Jack Lang, the NSW Premier, had decided to lead the opening ceremony of the bridge instead of a British royalty representative.  

But then gallops Captain Francis de Groot! While on horseback, he slashed the ceremonial ribbon as a protest that Lang was doing the opening ceremony instead of the Governor-General. 

De Groot was immediately apprehended and the ribbon was re-tied. Lang then proceeded to “officially” cut the ceremonial ribbon. 

The horseman was fined 9 pounds for his behavior. 

18. 160,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. 

When the bridge was first opened in the 30s, the average daily traffic was about 10,900 vehicles.  

The number has grown exponentially through the decades and in 1976, the one-billionth vehicle crossed the bridge.  

At present, an estimated number of 160,000 vehicles (and possibly more) use the bridge daily. This translates to 43,000 million vehicles a year for both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Tunnel. 

Here’s one extra fun fact: approximately 4,000 broken-down vehicles are removed every year from the bridge. 

Car traffic on Sydney Harbour Bridge

19. The bridge has an annual maintenance budget of $20 million.

Maintaining a structure of this scale and significance is not an easy, nor cheap, project. 

The government has an annual budget of $20 million for the bridge’s maintenance.  

Seems to be too expensive?  Here’s what happens: 

  • Parts of the bridge are repainted. The exposed surfaces are given a fresh coating of paint every five years, and some every 30 years.  
  • Replacing the road surface – every 15 years. 
  • Replacing the flags on top of the bridge – every 4 to 6 months.
  • More than 100 people are maintaining the bridge each day. 

20. The bridge has its own custom-made and trademarked paint color. 

One coat of painting for the bridge takes 30,000 liters.  

It’s not just any normal steel-looking paint but a specially-mixed color named Sydney Harbour Bridge Grey. It also has a registered trademark and is not for sale to the public. 

21. Meet Blinky Bill at the bridge’s summit. 

The highest part of the bridge at 141 meters above sea level is the home of what locals fondly call Blinky Bill.  

Despite the cute nickname, it is actually a 700-watt flashing air navigation light or an aircraft beacon that was first installed in 1949.

These red-blinking lights are changed every 2 months by two expert electricians.  Worth 600 US Dollars, each bulb is designed to last for 1,000 hours. 

However, no one really knows how Blinky Bill got its blinkin’ nickname. It just became a part of the urban folklore, passed from generations of maintenance workers. But some say it was from a character of a popular Aussie cartoon in the 1930s. 

22. Three flags are seen on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

Two flagpoles were initially installed at the top of the bridge, holding the flags of Australia and New South Wales. 

Flags on Sydney Harbour Bridge

But for 19 days each year, the Aboriginal flag takes the place of the NSW one.  

And just this 2022, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet declared that a third flagpole will be installed, carrying the Aboriginal flag permanently. This is to recognize the Indigenous population in New South Wales.  

23. Drive. Walk. Bike. Climb.  

Aside from driving, the other activities will need quite the physical strength and commitment.

The eastern side of the bridge hosts the bridge walk. Run or leisurely pass through the walkway while enjoying the view of the Harbour, the city, Circular Quay, the Opera House and Kirribilli. 

You can also ride your bike – either for exercise, transportation or a part of the city tour. Guided bike tours are often offered, along with bike rentals.  

But why just walk or ride through the bridge, when you can climb it yourself? BridgeClimb has grown to be a popular Sydney must-do, with over four million local and tourist climbers since they started in 1998!  

Just how challenging is it? To reach the summit, you’ll need 1,332 steps or the equivalent of 504 calories. 

Sydney BridgeClimb
Editorial credit: DinoPh / Shutterstock.com

24. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is also a romance hotspot. 

Make those 1,332 steps your first (thousand) steps to forever!  

The Summit has probably heard more than 5,000 yes-es (hopefully all said yes!) and at least 25 I do’s

Imagine that stunning 360-degree panoramic vista on your background as the men pop the question, or as you exchange your rings and vows. Now that is a story truly worth sharing with your grandchildren!

Scared what if the ring falls? The staff provides an engagement ring device, or an ERD, which will keep the ring safe from falling into the harbour.  

Bridge and groom walking under Sydney Harbour Bridge
Editorial credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

25. The world’s longest on-screen kiss was once recorded at The Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

It was in 2015, when the Guinness World Record for the longest on-screen kiss would again be broken, from the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

The Bachelor Season 3’s Sam Wood and his date Nina had the whole of Australia watching as their first kiss at the Coathanger’s highest point clocked in a verified total of 4 minutes and 10 seconds.   

Unfortunately, this record has already been beaten last 2021. The Bachelorette Australia lodged a new record of 5 minutes and 11 seconds from the Sydney Tower Eye. 

26. Rejected bridge designs proposals have been re-envisioned through digital renders.

Ever-wondered what the bridge would look like if the arch design wasn’t chosen?

In 1900, a worldwide design competition was organized by the government for the harbour crossing. More than 70 designs were proposed, but it was Dorman Long & Co’s final design that was chosen and they were awarded the contract.  

Just recently, image and 3D video digital renders of the other designs that didn’t make the cut then have surfaced on the web.  

And while the current arch design is iconic, the other proposals will have you equally stunned as well!

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