Brooklyn Bridge


Brooklyn Bridge, Designed by John Roebling

Written by Scott Messmore

While New Yorkers might have spent years trying to sell it to unsuspecting tourists, in its day the Brooklyn Bridge was a technical marvel. Famous for its technical design and the beauty of its arching span, the Brooklyn Bridge has been filmed for countless films and television shows. New Yorkers had debated for decades about creating a bridge over the East River to the then town of Brooklyn. In the 19th Century, a East River bridge was desirable to spur development in Brooklyn and alleviate overcrowding in Manhattan.

A Bridge Over the East River

The New York State Legislature had approved a bill as early as the 1857 to build an East River Bridge, but construction was started until 1870. Prussian-born bridge designer John Roebling created the entire design for a bridge over the East River after a frustrating ride on a ferry. To ensure seaborne traffic could clear the bridge, Roebling created a huge suspension bridge with two massive granite towers that would hang a bridge using steel cables. The two granite towers would eventually tower above the New York City area at 276 feet above the water's surface.

Caisson's Disease

Caissons carrying workers to the bottom of the river were used to drive the tower foundations to a firm footing on the bottom of the East River. Hundreds of workers got the bends, then known as "Caisson's Disease", as a result of the pressure changes.

Miles of Steel Rope

To suspend the bridge, Roebling made four huge steel cables at his own plant. The cables were made much same way as hemp rope. Each steel cable was about the width of a pencil and strung together with other wires to create a cable 15 inches across and could sustain a load of 11,200 tons. Four cables were strung across the tops of the towers and wire ropes were hung down to secure the roadway. Hence, the name suspension bridge.

14-Year Project

The Brooklyn Bridge project took nearly 14 years to complete and almost 30 men lost their lives. Even as the bridge project got underway, designer John Roebling's foot was crushed by a docking boat while he was scouting the location of the Manhattan-side tower. Roebling died from complications of the accident and his son Washington Roebling took over. Washington also fell victim to the bends and managed the construction project from his Brooklyn bedroom. Washington's wife Emily brought messages to the work site from his bedside. Emily became so involved in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge that she was the first person to ride across the span during the opening ceremony in 1883. President Chester Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland followed Mrs. Roebling across the Brooklyn Bridge. New Yorkers walked or drove horse-drawn carriages across into Brooklyn for a one-cent toll.

Longest Suspension Bridge of the Time

The Brooklyn Bridge shattered all records for suspension bridges of the day. The Brooklyn Bridge was 500 feet longer than the previous record holder in Cincinnati, which was also designed by John Roebling. From end to end the Brooklyn Bridge is more than 6,000 feet long. Four roadways carried passengers to and from Manhattan. Now expanded with three traffic lanes in either direction, the Brooklyn Bridge handles 144,000 vehicles a day well into its second century of service to New York City.

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