historical illustration of the harbour bridge

Building Bridges: Looking back to the future

Over the past few weeks, transport around Auckland became more problematic than usual with the closure of four central lanes of the Auckland Harbour Bridge due to damage to a load-bearing steel beam caused by a truck that lost control in high winds.

The ensuing traffic chaos was a poignant reminder of just how vital the Harbour Bridge, with its 1020 metre steel arc, is to Auckland.

In 1946 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the possibility of building a bridge between Stokes Point, Northcote, and Point Erin, Westhaven. The Commission suggested that the bridge be 44 feet wide and flanked on either side by a 6-foot wide footpath. The Commission also considered an alternate option, that of building a tunnel.

Ultimately, (in addition to other considerations) the Commission opted for a bridge as they felt the view one would see while driving would be better. The Harbour Bridge officially opened to traffic on 30 May 1959.

Special Collections holds a small collection of material donated by Brian Wilson, a site engineer working on the bridge’s construction (1955-1959).

The collection includes photographs and newspaper clippings relating to the construction of the Harbour Bridge, a signed booklet by Brian Smith, the Assistant Resident Engineer during the construction, and memorabilia relating to the official opening.

Invitation for the Commemorative Dinner to mark the Auckland Harbour Bridge opening

Invitation for the Commemorative Dinner to mark the Auckland Harbour Bridge opening, 30 May 1959. MSS & A 2020/03

Among the memorabilia is Wilson’s ticket to the opening and the menu from the commemorative dinner signed by Smith, the Prime Minister of the day Walter Nash, Sir John Allum, Chairman of Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority and Governor-General, Lord Cobham.

Find out more about the history and engineering of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Visit Special Collections.