On this day 130 years ago, 150,000 people took the first steps across the then-longest suspension bridge in the world: the Brooklyn Bridge. Our borough’s iconic span opened May 24th, 1883 and has been operating ever since.
Leave it to a German to decide to start one of the most ambitious bridge projects in history. Immigrant John Roebling starting dreaming of building a span across the East River in 1857. Only until after the Civil War did plans get underway. Unfortunately for Roebling, he crushed his foot between a boat and a pier on a surveying trip (were there only a bridge!) and died soon after of a tetanus infection. His son Washington Roebling took over the project at the age of 32.
Construction began in 1870 when huge caissons were sunk to the bottom of the east river. Men inside these airtight pods dug out the riverbed underneath. Once deep enough, the caissons were pumped full of concrete to form a solid base. Then the towers were built on top of them until they reached a height of 278 feet above the water. Then the massive steel cables, which took a year to make, where strung from end to end. Thirteen years, $15.5 million, and about 30 lives later, the bridge was completed.
The building of the Brooklyn Bridge is the quintessential Brooklyn story. First, it involved young people kicking ass; a diverse labor force coming together to build something better for the city; accusations of serious graft; dishonest contractors; and powerful, inspiring figures. Also what you may not know, a very progressive woman behind the scenes; Washington’s wife, Emily Roebling, essentially taught herself bridge engineering to assist her husband.
Take a walk over the bridge and appreciate the effort that went into it. Check out this bridge tour app that Kriss Roebling, great-great grandson of the original Roebling, created for the occasion.
Here’s to 130 more years.