A Brief History of the Brooklyn Bridge
*Note: This is an older post. At some point, something happened to all the photos stored in my Google account. Most of the photos in this post were lost.
In 1857, Augustus Roebling had a dream. His dream was to build a bridge which would connect two cities, Brooklyn and Manhattan. The bridge took more than a decade to complete but more than 100 years later, the Brooklyn Bridge is still a main vessel used by thousands to travel between the two cities.
John Augustus Roebling and The Brooklyn Bridge
In 1857, a man named John Augustus Roebling became frustrated with the Atlantic Avenue -Fulton Street Ferry so he began dreaming of constructing a bridge which would connect Brooklyn and Manhattan which were then two separate cities. In the early 1800s, Brooklyn, New York was more of a rural territory than urban and the New York City area consisted only of heavily populated Manhattan. A bridge connecting the two cities would relieve Manhattan of over-population and encourage growth and development in Brooklyn.John Augustus Roebling was born in Germany in 1806. There he studied industrial engineering before migrating to Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, he attempted life as a farmer but he was not successful so he moved to Harrisburg where he started a wire cable factory. At that time, suspension bridges were used but they were known to fail with high winds or heavy loads. Roebling is credited with the discovery of the web truss which stabilized the bridges.In 1867, Roebling’s reputation for his successfully built bridges at Niagara Falls, New York, the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh and the Ohio River in Cincinnati secured approval by the New York state legislature for his plan for a suspension bridge over the east river between Manhattan and Brooklyn.A bridge was needed to connect two growing cities but the bridge would have to allow for ships to enter the area which was actually not a typical river, but a deep water way, valuable for trade.Roebling’s plan would be the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1600 feet.Unfortunately, Roebling was injured and died of tetanus before construction began. His son, Washington A. Roebling, a former Civil War Union Officer, had worked on previous projects with his father and had helped him design the Brooklyn Bridge.Washington A. Roebling took over as chief engineer and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1869.
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge
In order to make the Brooklyn Bridge foundation a solid one, wooden boxes called caissons were pinned to the floor of the riverbed and held down by huge granite blocks. Workers known as sandhogs worked inside the air-tight pressurized boxes where they had to shovel and dynamite away mud and boulders from the riverbed. As they cleared the debris from the bottom of the river, the caissons inched deeper and deeper. The sandhogs who were mostly immigrants worked for about $2.00 a day in dangerous conditions. Sandhogs traveled to the caissons in iron containers called airlocks. Compressed air in the airlocks caused gases to seep into the workers’ bloodstreams. When the gases were released after resurfacing, the workers suffered from symptoms such as joint pain, numbness, paralysis, nose-bleeds, speech problems and sometimes death. Washington A. Roebling suffered from what was called Caisson Disease and became partially paralyzed. His wife, Emily, took charge of construction. Many other workers died from other, more common construction accidents.When the caissons reached 44 feet in depth on the Brooklyn side and 78 feet on the Manhattan side, they were ready to work their way back to the surface of the water.The bridge took 14 years to complete involving 600 workers with at least 24 people dying during construction.
The Brooklyn Bridge Opens
The Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public on May 24, 1883. Thousands of Manhattan and Brooklyn residents attended the dedication ceremony. President Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland, who was then the Governor of New York, presided over the ceremony.Emily Roebling received the first ride across the bridge.The Brooklyn Bridge is sometimes referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world.”
A Few Interesting Facts and Trivia about The Brooklyn Bridge