The Brooklyn Bridge is a majestic structure which crosses the East River linking Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Since it had been unveiled in 1883, the bridge offers safe and beautiful passage to millions of trains, bicycles, carts and makes life easier for commuters and tourists.
The construction took 14 years to complete with more than 600 workers involved in the project and a cost $15 million dollars.
The story of the Brooklyn Bridge is one of success and tragedy, great engineering, courage, suffering, and dedication. Two dozen people sacrificed their lives so that now, more than 130 years later, the iconic construction of the New York skyline can carry thousands of pedestrians and vehicles every day.
The Man Behind the Mega Structure
John Augustus Roebling is the creator of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was a pioneer in the design of suspension bridge structures at the time.
The German-born engineer studied in Berlin and immigrated to America when he was 25 years old. At first he tried to be a farmer, but later on, found a job as a civil engineer. Over several years he managed to earn a reputation as a skillful designer of suspension bridges which at the time were not reliable and failed under strong winds and heavy loads.
Roebling became known for his breakthrough technology in his field, a web truss added to bridge structures for greater stability. Using this technology the engineer built a bridge at New York, the Niagara Falls, and Cincinnati.
His plan for a bridge in New York was approved in 1867. At the time it would be the longest suspension bridge in the world.
His tragic death marked the construction of the bridge in 1869. Roebling was hit by a boat while making final measurements across the East River and died few weeks after the accident. His young son Washington A. Roebling took charge of the construction. He helped his father design the bridge and had worked alongside him in other projects, so he had enough experience and knowledge to take on this great challenge.
Construction works on the bridge began on January 3, 1870, supervised by the young engineer Roebling.
Workers who were mostly immigrants started excavating the riverbed to achieve solid foundations for the bridge.They used shovels and dynamite to clear the mud away. After the foundations had been put in place, they started laying granite.
Those who had to work underwater faced very hard working conditions, dense air which gave headaches and slowed heartbeats. One of the most dangerous tasks was to get to the depths of the East River as later on, released gas in the bloodstream caused excruciating joint pain, paralysis and in some cases death. The condition known as decompression sickness or caisson disease was unknown at the time and harmed many workers in different ways.
Hundreds of workers suffered from the sickness and chief engineer Roebling himself, remained paralyzed his whole life. At some point, because of his condition, he could no longer supervise the works, so his wife Emily took the role and managed the construction work until the completion of the bridge.
Emily Warren Roebling stepped in when her husband remained paralyzed to provide a critical link between the chief engineer and the designers and engineers on-site. Under her husband’s guidance, she had to study higher mathematics, the strength of materials, bridge specifications, catenary curve calculations, specifics of cable constructions and more. For 11 years she assisted her husband supervising the construction of the bridge.
Over the years around 20 workers died in various construction accidents, such as fires, explosions, collapses etc. Later on, nation’s first legislation was passed dealing with caisson-safety. The new laws aimed to protect workers digging underwater railway tunnels.
The opening date of the new bridge over the East River was May 24, 1883. It connected the great cities of Brooklyn and New York for the first time in history. The structure provided a link between the massive population centers of Manhattan and Brooklyn and changed the skyline of New York City forever.
The Brooklyn Bridge opened with great fanfare – grand festivities with a live band performance, gunfire from ships and fireworks display. The names of, Washington, Emily and John A. Roebling were inscribed on the structure as its builders.
The ceremony was visited by thousands of citizens from both sides of the bridge. The first to ride over the complete bridge was Emily Roebling.
More than 250,000 people walked across the Brooklyn Bridge within 24 hours of the opening. They used a broad promenade that John Roebling designed especially for pedestrians to enjoy.
One week after the opening, a rumor broke that the Bridge was going to collapse. Then P.T Barnum helped prove the structure’s stability. One of the attractions of his famous circus, an elephant led a parade of 21 animals over the Brooklyn Bridge to show everyone the rumors were false.
The Brooklyn Bridge was called the “eighth wonder of the world” with its unprecedented length and tall towers built of granite and limestone. At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension structure in the world, and it became a treasured landmark almost immediately. The neo-Gothic architectural style with characteristic pointed arches, charms residents, and guests even today. The bridge is among the New York City’s top tourist attractions ever since it was unveiled.
Manhattan is the most beautiful place in the World, read Manhattan Story.