The Brooklyn Bridge is an icon of construction and the extensive capabilities of man. A marvel of engineering and the benchmark against which all structures of its kind are measured, the bridge has been a topic of songs, art, literature, and conversation for over a century. It was the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world and took over 13 years to complete, from January 1870 until May 1883 when the first horse and buggy rode across what was then called the East River Bridge. To highlight and celebrate one of the most famous and influential structures in the modern world, check out these five incredible facts about the Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge Facts
1. Who Designed the Brooklyn Bridge?
The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by John Augustus Roebling, a German engineer who immigrated to the United States and had already constructed shorter suspension bridges in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Texas. While surveying for the project, Roebling had his toes crushed between a ferry and a piling, resulting in their amputation. Sadly, Roebling passed away from tetanus just before the construction of the bridge officially started.
2. Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge?
John’s son, Washington Roebling, was left to supervise the construction of the bridge from his apartment building which overlooked the entire East River and construction site. Washington suffered from paralysis as a result of decompression sickness and was unable to spend time physically on the construction site. With help from his wife, Emily Warren, who carried messages between the apartment and the construction site, and who also studied engineering, Roebling designed and directed construction of the bridge until its completion in 1883.
3. Who First Crossed the Brooklyn Bridge?
Fittingly, it was Emily Warren Roebling who first crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on the day it opened, May 24th, 1883. On that day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and over 150,000 people crossed the bridge and admired its beauty and majesty. At the time, the bridge supported railway and vehicular traffic as well as pedestrians. In 1950 however, the bridge was modified to support six lanes of vehicle traffic. Today, the bridge facilitates crossing the East River for over 100,000 cars and 4,000 pedestrians on a daily basis. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in New York City.
4. How was the Brooklyn Bridge Built to Last?
Many bridges that were constructed around the time of the Brooklyn Bridge have collapsed and faded into history – how has the Brooklyn Bridge stayed strong for so long? The answer is the redundancies in its support system – Augustus Roebling calculated how strong the structure would have to be to accommodate regular usage and intentionally designed it to be six times as strong! The bridge has three separate and distinct supporting systems – the suspension system, diagonal stay system, and the stiffening truss system. It has been claimed that the bridge would not collapse even if one of these systems totally failed. As a result, the bridge is one of the most resilient bridges ever built.
5. What Makes the Brooklyn Bridge So Well Engineered?
Why did the BBC laud the Brooklyn Bridge as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World? The bridge was the longest of its kind when it was constructed – over 50% longer than any other suspension bridge at the time. The bridge is anchored directly into the bedrock of the East River using methods developed by John Augustus Roebling and has survived many stampedes and traffic overloads due to its immense stability. The suspension system on its own contains over 6,740 tons of material and is capable of sustaining up to six times its own weight. A tubular bridge with the same dimensions would require 10 times as much material and cost twice as much to build.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a modern marvel of human resilience and invention. Not only did its creators innovate and contribute a legacy to the landscape of engineering, they overcame great personal hardship to make it happen. Today, Emily Warren and Washington Roebling are celebrated for their tireless work, and millions of people each year flock to Brooklyn to admire the wonder that is the Brooklyn Bridge.