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Building and painting the Brooklyn Bridge, world's first steel suspension bridge, 5,989 feet long, began in 1869, opened in 1883


By WcP.Tomorrows.H... - Posted on 03 December 2009


Brooklyn Bridge painters at work high above the city on December 3, 1915

Construction began in 1869 and completed fourteen years later in 1883.

(quote)

The Brooklyn Bridge - the world's first steel suspension bridge - is a beloved landmark and a cultural icon of NYC. It's been celebrated in art, poetry, song, and on film. The mastermind behind the bridge called it "the greatest engineering work of the age… a great work of art."

Spanning the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. It's 5,989 feet (1.825km) in length and soars 119 feet (36.27m) above the river. Its two granite Gothic towers rise 276.5 feet (84.27m) above the water. The roadway platform is hung on steel suspenders strung from four thick cables, each made of 5,296 galvanized steel wires bound together and anchored on both shorelines.

In 1867, one-third of the workers in Brooklyn (then the nation's fourth-largest city) worked in Manhattan. The only way to reach the island was by boat, and the river sometimes froze solid, stranding commuters and isolating both cities. And so, that year, a plan for a massive bridge was approved. It was designed by John A. Roebling, an engineer who'd made a fortune pioneering the manufacture of wire rope made of a new type of metal: steel.

Building the bridge was an enormous undertaking, as it had to span the half-mile river (the busiest waterway in the world at the time) and be tall enough to allow clipper and steam ships to pass beneath. Construction took 14 years and claimed 27 lives, the first being Roebling himself. While surveying, his foot was crushed by a ferry, and he died of tetanus. His son Washington Roebling took charge of the mammoth project.

Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1869. The bridge was conceived by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, who had previously designed and constructed shorter suspension bridges, such as Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, and the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky. While conducting surveys for the bridge project, Roebling sustained a crush injury to his foot when a ferry pinned it against a piling. After amputation of his crushed toes, he developed a tetanus infection which left him incapacitated and soon resulted in his death in 1869, not long after he had placed his 32-year-old son Washington Roebling in charge of the project.

As Chief Engineer, Roebling supervised the entire project from his apartment with a view of the work, designing and redesigning caissons and other equipment. He was aided by his wife Emily Warren Roebling, who provided the critical written link between her husband and the engineers on site. Under her husband's guidance, Emily studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She spent the next 11 years assisting Washington Roebling, helping to supervise the bridge's construction. When iron probes underneath the caisson for the Manhattan tower found the bedrock to be even deeper than expected, Roebling halted construction due to the increased risk of decompression sickness. He later deemed the aggregate overlying the bedrock 30 feet (9.1 m) below it to be firm enough to support the tower base, and construction continued.

The bridge was opened for use on May 24, 1883. Thousands of people attended the opening ceremony, and many ships were present in the East Bay for the occasion. President Chester A. Arthur and Mayor Franklin Edson crossed the bridge to celebratory cannon fire and were greeted by Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low when they reached the Brooklyn-side tower. Arthur shook hands with Washington Roebling at the latter's home, after the ceremony. Emily Warren Roebling was the first to cross the bridge. At the time it opened, and for several years, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world—50% longer than any previously built—and it has become a treasured landmark.

Photo courtesy @HistoryInPix and Walks of New York

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