Monday 2 May 2016

The Brooklyn Bridge: World's Longest Suspension Bridge

"To me, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is still one of the most dramatic stories in all of American history." (Ken Burns)


Thousands flocked to the new bridge in its opening week at

It spanned 5989 feet.  It weighed 14,860 tons.  It contained 3515 miles of wire per cable.  It took 14 years to build.  Originally the East River Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge was the brainchild of John Augustus Roebling and complete by his son Washington Augustus Roebling.

A technological marvel, the suspension bridge's towers were built by floating two wooden caissons upside down in the East River, then building the stone towers on top until they sank to the bottom.  
The bridge's construction left many constructions workers injured including the architect whose toes were crushed and amputated; he developed tetanus and died.  His son, Washington, took over the project.  Later, the son developped a paralyzing injury due to decompression sickness.  Many workers contracted the bends due to the underwater work, a condition that the project physician called "caisson disease".  

Washington supervised most of the work from his apartment window.  His wife, Emily, played a major role in the bridge's construction over the next 11 years, "calculating catenary curves, the strength of materials, bridge specifications and intricacies of cable construction" (

The bridge, which cost $15.5 million to construct, was built with several passageways and compartments in its anchorages to fund it.  The vaults, always at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, were used to store wine.  With a shrine to the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the vault, it was nicknamed the "Blue Grotto.  

Opened in 1883 by President Chester Arthur, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time.  The architect, Roebling, was unable to attend the event due to his poor health; he held a celebration at his home, where the president visited him to shake his hand.

The Brooklyn Bridge, not only a conduit for New Yorkers travelling from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back, is also a historical landmark.  People come from far and wide to view its caissons, its cables, its view.  Filmmaker Ken Burns was thrilled to hear that his documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge made a difference in the lives of many Americans, particularly one family:

"In film classes back in college, we had debated endlessly whether films ever had any impact on people's lives, whether films ever really made people do something.  Shortly after this documentary first appeared, the New York Times ran a front page photograph of a married couple and their children walking over the Brooklyn Bridge.  They said they were from Idaho and they had travelled all the way to New York so their family could see first-hand this remarkable structure.  They said they got the idea after watching a film on PBS.  To me, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is still one of the most dramatic stories in all of American history." 

Today, 125,000 cars, 4,000 passengers and 2,600 cyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge each day.  It remains one of America's most magnificent landmarks.

The Brooklyn Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge of its time, courtesy

Note:  To see part of the documentary, visit

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