Of the several bridges crossing both the Hudson and East Rivers in New York City, one stands out as a pop culture icon; the Brooklyn Bridge. At just over one mile in length (with the longest span reaching close to 1600 feet) it was the first steel-wire suspension bridge, and one of the oldest roadway bridges, in the United States.
The idea of a suspension bridge across the East River, connecting Manhattan with Brooklyn, was first conceived by German architect, John Augustus Roebling, in 1852 (he had already designed and built shorter bridges in Pennsylvania and Cincinnati). He spent the subsequent fifteen years trying to convince New York authorities that his idea was feasible. In February of 1867, the New York Senate finally passed a bill to build the bridge. Two months later, the “Brooklyn Bridge Corporation” was formed to begin the construction process. When Roebling died in 1867, his son, Washington, took over supervision of the project. Washington Roebling became paralyzed after suffering from “caisson disease” (more commonly known as the “bends”) from his time supervising construction down in one of the deep bases for the towers. While he was still the Chief Engineer on the project, supervising from an apartment overlooking the construction site, his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, an accomplished field engineer in her own right, provided a critical link between her husband and the construction process. Actual work on the bridge began in 1869 and lasted until 1883. When the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, it was the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Because of its length, some were critical of its stability. In an effort to squelch some of these doubts, as well as to promote his circus, P.T. Barnum led a 21 elephant parade across the bridge with his famous elephant “Jumbo” at the front. For several years after its opening, the Brooklyn Bridge (which in the beginning was known as the “New York and Brooklyn Bridge,” as well as the “East River Bridge” until New York formally changed the name in 1915) was considered the longest suspension bridge in the world. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972. A four year $508 million renovation project began on 2010.
On average, 10,000 pedestrians and 3500 bicyclists cross the bridge on a daily basis. Of course, being such an iconic attraction, you know we just HAD to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This added to the list of world attractions that we’ve had the good fortune to be able to explore (including having walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on the West Coast) What a thrill!