And with Bethlehem's new acquisition came an inside line into some of the nation's most visionary steel projects. By the time Bethlehem took over McClintic-Marshall, the fabricator already had contracts to build the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the George Washington Bridge in New York.
It also had the contract for what would stand forever as the crown jewel of Bethlehem Steel's collection.
The Golden Gate Bridge.
''What a magnificent structure,'' said Beedle, seizing on the expertise he gained during his six-decade engineering career.
After his day on the bridge, Beedle would change his major to engineering, and within seven years he'd be in the South Pacific, working for the Navy, testing the strength of steel against atomic blasts. He'd test the same steel that Bethlehem was producing for warships, and as the longtime director of Lehigh University's Fritz Laboratory, he'd go on to develop new methods for the design of steel frames for buildings. His ''Plastic Design of Steel Frames'' theory in the 1950s set off a movement in which a building was designed based on the ultimate strength of its frame, rather than the stresses against it. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats, which he founded in 1969, would be not only the clearinghouse for design and engineering innovations worldwide, but the arbiter of debates about the world's tallest building.
His work took him to the roof of the Sears Towers in Chicago, to the top of the Empire State Building and even to the top of the reigning world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. But none of those experiences surpassed the day he stood on top of the San Francisco tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.
''See, it wasn't just that the Golden Gate was the longest or tallest when it was built,'' Beedle said. ''Its beauty makes it special. To my way of thinking, it stacks up to anything built before or since.''
The Golden Gate cost $35 million and took more than four years to build, but by the time it was ready to open, years of heated debate had yielded to a widespread belief that the project was a success. Even the deaths of 10 men working on the bridge, though tragic, were deemed part of the success. The bridge designers pioneered a new safety netting that was strung beneath the bridge, about 250 feet above the water. The 10 who fell were killed because the netting broke. But the number was far below project estimates of 35 deaths, based on an industry standard at the time that projected one death for each million dollars spent on a wide-span bridge project.
When it opened in 1937, with its 4,200-foot span between its two massive towers and another 1,100 feet on each side, the Golden Gate was not only the longest suspension bridge in the world, but its towers extending 746 feet above the bay made it the highest American structure west of Manhattan.
For years, Golden Gate Bridge engineer Joseph Baerman Strauss beat back skepticism from peers who said the Golden Gate could not be bridged, and from residents of the six-county area who said that $35 million was too much to spend on a project some of them regarded as a risky publicity stunt. Some said it was too close to the San Andreas Fault; others questioned how the San Francisco tower could possibly be built in 100 feet of rushing water.
E.J. Harrington, designer of the Dumbarton lift bridge over the southern arm of San Francisco Bay and an early opponent of the Golden Gate Bridge, said the bridge could not be built because there was no plant large enough to fabricate the steel needed for construction.
Bethlehem Steel would prove Harrington wrong.
After years of debate, voters in the six-county area overwhelmingly approved the project that would epitomize the conglomerate Bethlehem Steel had become.
The 68,000 tons of steel for the bridge was rolled in Bethlehem and Steelton, transported off the plant property by Bethlehem's subsidiary railroad and taken by train to Pottstown, where McClintic-Marshall fabricated the pieces and built large sections to make sure they fit perfectly. Some of the sections were made at Steelton.
From Pottstown and Steelton, the pieces were shipped by rail to Philadelphia, where they were loaded onto Bethlehem subsidiary Calmar Ship Lines, shipped through the same Panama Canal locks that McClintic-Marshall had fabricated, and unloaded in the Bethlehem-owned shipyard in Alameda, Calif., before being moved to the San Francisco Bay building site.
Even then, company President Eugene Grace sensed that the bridge would live on as a symbol of American ingenuity, and was determined to make sure the Bethlehem Steel name was married to that history.
As he visited the construction site in 1936, Grace stood next to a McClintic-Marshall foreman, admiring the work in progress and noting what a fine job Bethlehem Steel was doing. The foreman suggested that it was a McClintic-Marshall project, pointing to the trucks with McClintic-Marshall signs on them.
When Grace returned to Bethlehem, subsidiary McClintic-Marshall was immediately renamed the Fabricated Steel Construction division of Bethlehem Steel.
Bethlehem Steel would go on to build dozens of skyscrapers in Manhattan alone, dozens of long-span bridges and hundreds of apartment complexes, schools, libraries, municipal buildings and office complexes across the nation.
Among its landmarks are the 21-story International-Style Lever House in Manhattan, which in 1957 touched off a new era of skyscrapers encased in steel and glass rather than concrete or stone, and the 59-story Citicorp Center in Manhattan, with its controversial cantilever style that forced contractors to add braces when it was discovered the building was vulnerable to heavy winds.