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November 14, 2021

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse in 1940

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a suspension bridge in the U.S. state of Washington that spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed into Puget Sound on November 7 the same year. The bridge’s collapse has been described as “spectacular” and in subsequent decades “has attracted the attention of engineers, physicists, and mathematicians.”


Before the collapse, it was the world’s third-longest main span behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge. ⁠

Leonard Coatsworth, a Tacoma News Tribune editor, was the last person to drive on the bridge. He recalled:
“Around me I could hear concrete cracking. I started back to the car to get the dog, but was thrown before I could reach it. The car itself began to slide from side to side on the roadway. I decided the bridge was breaking up and my only hope was to get back to shore. On hands and knees most of the time, I crawled 500 yards [1,500 ft; 460 m] or more to the towers… My breath was coming in gasps; my knees were raw and bleeding, my hands bruised and swollen from gripping the concrete curb… Towards the last, I risked rising to my feet and running a few yards at a time… Safely back at the toll plaza, I saw the bridge in its final collapse and saw my car plunge into the Narrows.”
Tubby, Coatsworth’s cocker spaniel, was the only fatality of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster; he was lost along with Coatsworth’s car. Professor Farquharson and a news photographer attempted to rescue Tubby during a lull, but the dog was too terrified to leave the car and bit one of the rescuers. Tubby died when the bridge fell and neither his body nor the car was ever recovered. Coatsworth had been driving Tubby back to his daughter, who owned the dog.

Coatsworth received $450.00 for his car (equivalent to $8,300 today) and $364.40 ($6,700 today) in reimbursement for the contents of his car, including Tubby.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge on its opening day.

The main bridge span falling into the strait.

 Leonard Coatsworth’s car on the bridge.

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