Meet Wallace Fong, the man who helped light San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

Meet Wallace Fong, the man who helped light San Francisco’s Golden Gate BridgeMeet Wallace Fong, the man who helped light San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge
via WETA National Productions
Bryan Ke
July 31, 2023
An upcoming PBS docuseries episode will be featuring unsung heroes who helped bring San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to life, including Chinese American engineer Wallace Fong (Fong Bing Wah), who drew the circuitry used to light the iconic structure.
About the series: PBS’ eight-episode docuseries “Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories with David Rubenstein” will air its final episode, titled “The Golden Gate Bridge,” on Tuesday. The show first premiered on April 26.
Early life: Born in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1903, Fong and his family were relocated to a segregated corner of the Presidio near Fort Point following the devastating earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1906. They were joined by several other Chinese American families affected by the calamity as the United States continued to enforce its controversial Chinese Exclusion Act at the time.
Professional life and career: Fong graduated from UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering in 1923. When construction of the Golden Gate Bridge began in 1933, Fong was working for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company as a draftsman at the time.
Fong’s employer reportedly provided electricity for the machinery used during the bridge’s construction.
Bringing light to the bridge: Although consulting architect Irving F. Morrow had the idea of lighting the iconic structure using low-pressure sodium vapor lamps — which were considered modern at the time — Fong was the one who drew the circuitry used for the bridge.
Next project: Soon after working on the Golden Gate Bridge, Fong went on to become a hydroelectric engineer for the Oroville Dam on the Feather River, a project of the California Department of Water Resources.
Sharing his story: As public records of the people who worked on the bridge have purportedly been lost through time, Fong’s story is being shared by his granddaughter, Katherine Toy, who now works for the California Natural Resources Agency, the mother agency of the Department of Water Resources.
To be a part of creating such iconic and lasting infrastructure for America – I hope he was proud of that,” Toy says about her grandfather in the upcoming “Iconic America” episode. “I am proud he did that.”

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