SAN FRANCISCO -- Forty thousand automobiles, representing practically every state in the union, passed over the San Francisco-Oakland bay bridge in the first eight hours of its operation tonight as motorists crowded Oakland and San Francisco approaches to the newest and most glamorous "eighth wonder of the world."
With their headlights forming a ribbon of incandescence 500 feet above the surface of San Francisco bay, the motorists poured $26,000 into the bridge coffers as contributions toward the $77,000,000 the 8 1/2-mile long, two-decked structure of concrete and steel cost.
Sixteen thousand automobiles moved across the eight and one half mile structure in the first two and one half hours of its operation. Each driver paid a 65-cent toll for himself, his automobile and three passengers, extra riders dropped a nickel each into the toll boxes at the Oakland end of the bridge.
Bridge fiscal experts estimate it will take 20 years to liquidate the $77,000,000 original cost, the interest charges and the maintenance costs of the gigantic span, but at the rate traffic was moving today, it would take only 770 days or less than two years.
There seems no end to the procession of automobiles which moved across the bridge plazas to the six-lane upper deck, across San Francisco bay at the height of several hundred feet above water, through the Yerba Buena island tunnel, largest bore in the world, and down to street level again on the San Francisco or the Oakland side.
Some automobilists had waited all night for the opportunity to be the first across when the chains were lifted in official ceremonies shortly after noon and a signal from President Roosevelt in Washington flashed a giant "go" signal to release the flood of traffic.
But those who had been in line for 12 hours, for 10 hours and for longer periods learned the truth of the old Biblical parable of the last shall be first and the first last.
For a dusty automobile with Nebraska license plates wandered accidentally into one of the ramps, moved into the bridge lanes, and was halfway across, headed for Oakland, when Gov. Frank F. Merriam, former President Herbert Hoover and the remainder of the official opening party swept across from the East bay on their way to San Francisco to open the span on its western ends.
The Nebraskans were sidetracked temporarily, to let the official cavalcade through, and then an escort of motorcycle officers led them on a swift trip to their Oakland destination.
Red faced traffic officers, busily trying to explain how it happened despite their vigilance, neglected to record the names of the pioneers.
There were many arguments thereafter as to who was the first across. Many a college boy went back to his classes, many a husband returned home to his wife, and many a clerk went back to the office from which he had been given the noon hours off to announce he had been the first to cross.
One motorist we met after the crossing said it had taken him 13 minutes to get to Oakland and 60 minutes to get back. The time was lost in trying to maneuver back into line on the Oakland side.
Traffic experts believe the normal time required for crossing will be around 13 minutes, as against the 20 it now takes on the automobile ferries.
The bridge probably will receive its first real test, after the opening day excitement, on Nov. 19, when it will be called upon to handle much of the crowd of 90,000 bound for the California-Stanford football game in Berkeley.
The bay communities -- San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda and other cities -- made the formal opening an event on a par with the magnitude of the long dreamed of bridge, which Herbert Hoover, in one of his addresses of the day, called the greatest engineering feat by Americans since the construction of the Panama canal.
The program began with an aircraft parade in which 250 airplanes took part and a marine procession in which yachts, power boats and other craft passed under the stately structure.
Governor Merriam presided at the formal opening ceremonies, first on the eastern or Oakland end and then on the San Francisco, or western end. He, Hoover, former Gov. C.C. Young, Chief Engineer Charles Purcell, who completed the bridge in shorter time than the contact provided, and others spoke.
The celebration will last until Saturday night, when San Francisco brings it to a climax with an electrical pageant 600,000 persons are expected to witness.
Next year San Francisco and the counties to its north, on the Marin peninsula, will open the Golden Gate bridge, second longest span in the world.