Harry Lee Fogle, who is believed to be the last surviving worker to help build the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, died on Feb. 10 of congestive heart failure. He was 97.
Fogle was born on a Wisconsin dairy farm that lacked electricity. When the bank foreclosed on the property, he became a painter for the railroad and worked his way from the Midwest to California.
In 1935, Fogle landed a job painting the towers and supporting cables of the Bay Bridge. It was during the Great Depression, and he felt “lucky” to have a job working hundreds of feet in the air — without a safety net — for $11 a day. Dozens of men died during the construction of the Bay Bridge. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, a fatal accident occurred nearly every six weeks.
The next year, Fogle was hired to paint the main cables and the 746-foot-tall towers of the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge. Eleven workers perished during the construction of the 4,200-foot-long suspension span, including 10 in February 1937 when their scaffolding fell through a safety net.
Once completed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge span in the world. The bridge opened to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937, and since then, more than 2 billion cars have traversed its span.
Although Fogle also painted portions of the Carquinez Bridge, he continued working, on and off, as a painter and foreman on the Golden Gate Bridge for over 40 years. After decades of dealing with dangerous working conditions, including heights, fog and wind, he retired in 1976.
His final years were spent remodeling his home and traveling. Fogle is survived by his wife, Marie, two daughters, a son, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.