By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Ask the experts of the American Society of Civil Engineers or thousands of travelers on TripAdvisor; you’ll get a different list as to the best man-made wonders in the USA. Consider all the outstanding monuments, skyscrapers, stations, bridges, tunnels, domes and dams. Yet a handful of iconic structures make their way to the top of both lists. With apologies to the Seattle Space Needle, Brooklyn Bridge, and Washington Monument…these five modern marvels are as good as it gets.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, CA 94129
At 80 years of age, the “bridge that couldn’t be built” looks as good as ever. Completed under budget and ahead of schedule in 1937, that’s a wonder in itself. No matter how many times you get a glimpse, this majestic structure retains its special “wow” power. On a clear day, the 746-foot-tall north and south towers painted in their signature International Orange stand out against a sparkling blue San Francisco Bay, contrasted by rugged headlands to the north and the city skyline to the south. At other times, the moan of the Golden Gate’s fog horns signal that the bridge is fogged in, even as the sun shines down on city streets.
Visitors can choose how to experience the Golden Gate Bridge: on foot, by bicycle, in a car, or on a boat. Two plazas at either end of the bridge offer some of the best close-up views. At the National Park Service Welcome Center, free San Francisco City Guides walking tours assemble to provide insights into the bridge’s extraordinary vision and construction story.
In the 2017 TripAdvisor poll for Travelers’ Choice awards, the Golden Gate Bridge claimed the top spot among U.S. landmarks.
Statue Of Liberty
New York, NY 10004
Crafted by French hands in a dusty late-19th century Paris workshop, Lady Liberty stands 151 feet tall upon the pedestal that boosts her height to 305 feet. Reigning over the entrance to New York Harbor since 1886, when the statue was first erected, it was the tallest iron structure ever built.
Accessible only by ferry boat, approximately 4.5 million visitors descended upon her in 2016, many eager to climb 354 steps to peek through her crown pierced by 25 windows. Seven spikes upon her crown represent the world’s seven oceans and the seven continents of the world, symbolic of universal liberty. That message is underscored by the tablet it holds bearing the date of American Independence: July 4, 1776.
In 1984, the Statue of Liberty was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She currently holds third position on the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice ranking of best landmarks in the U.S.
Empire State Building
350 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10118
For more than 40 years after it opened in 1931, the Empire State Building maintained its position as the world’s tallest building. Its striking art deco design earned it a designation as a National Historic Landmark and as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further praise comes from members of the American Institute of Architects who ranked it as their number one favorite structure in a 2007 poll.
Considered among the most challenging constructions ever built, the 102-story skyscraper with 67 elevators that covers an entire New York City block was completed by a workforce of 3,500 in just over 13 months. Today, more than 110 million people have marveled at views from the world’s most popular observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors.
U.S. Route 93
Las Vegas, NV
Built during the 1930’s Great Depression on the Colorado River between the states of Nevada and Arizona, America’s largest dam cost more than 100 lives in the process. The mammoth undertaking is seen as a testimony to American spirit, grit and determination during tough times. It stores water for irrigation, controls floods, supports industrial uses, generates enough hydroelectric power to service 1.3 million people, protects habitats and provides recreation at Lake Mead.
How much concrete did it take to construct the Hoover Dam? Enough to “pave a standard highway 16 feet wide, from San Francisco to New York City,” the U.S. Department of the Interior explains. The National Historic Landmark is also recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. Only 30 miles from Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is an important tourism destination as well.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 Highway 244
Keystone, SD 57751
How extraordinary of an undertaking was it to carve the gigantic likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln from a granite mountain face at South Dakota’s Black Hills? Just the nose of our first president is 21 feet high, the eyes each measure 11 feet across.
The landmark took 14 years to build between 1927 and 1941 with not a single loss of life. More than 90 percent of Mount Rushmore was created by blasting away at half a million tons of granite with dynamite. The intricacies were achieved by skilled sculptors. According to the Library of Congress, “One by one the faces were uncovered and dedicated: Washington in 1930; Jefferson in 1936; Lincoln in 1937; and Roosevelt in 1939.”
Every year, about three million people come to see the monument, one of America’s most recognizable, representing the first century-and-a-half of American history.