The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. At 5,989 feet (1825 m), it was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening to 1903, the first steel-wire suspension bridge.
Originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, it was dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge in an 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and formally so named by the city government in 1915. Since its opening, it has become an iconic part of the New York skyline. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
The Brooklyn Bridge opened to great fanfare in May 1883. The names of John Roebling, Washington Roebling, and Emily Warren Roebling are inscribed on the structure as its builders.
Construction began on January 3, 1870. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed thirteen years later and was opened for use on May 24, 1883. The Brooklyn Bridge might not have been built had it not been for the assistance of Emily Warren Roebling, who provided the critical written link between her husband, Washington Roebling (the Chief Engineer), and engineers on-site. Most history books cite Washington Roebling's father John Roebling and Washington Roebling as the bridge’s builders. Early into construction, however, John Roebling’s foot slipped into a group of pylons from the shake of an incoming ferry. This badly crushed his toes, causing those toes to be amputated, leaving him incapacitated; he later died of an infection related to this injury and leaving his son, Washington Roebling, in charge of the bridge. The actual construction started under the younger Roebling. Not long after taking charge of the bridge, Washington Roebling suffered a paralyzing injury as well, the result of decompression sickness. This condition plagued many of the underwater workers, in different capacities, as the condition was relatively unknown at the time and in fact was first called "caisson disease" by the project physician Dr. Andrew Smith. With both men out of commission, Emily Warren Roebling provided critical assistance in providing the communications between her husband and the engineers on-site. Under her husband’s guidance, Emily had 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 in the supervision of the bridge’s construction.
The opening ceremony was attended by several thousand people and many ships were present in the East Bay for the occasion. President Chester Arthur and New York 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 Roebling's home, after the ceremony. Washington Roebling was unable to attend the ceremony but held a celebratory banquet at his house on the day of the bridge opening. Further festivity included the performance of a band, gunfire from ships, and a fireworks display.
On that first day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed what was then the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The bridge's main span over the East River is 1,595 feet 6 inches (486.3 m). The bridge cost $15.5 million to build and approximately 27 people died during its construction.
One week after the opening, on May 30, 1883, a rumor that the Bridge was going to collapse caused a stampede, which crushed and killed at least twelve people. On May 17, 1884, P. T. Barnum helped to squelch doubts about the bridge's stability—while publicizing his famous circus—when one of his most famous attractions, Jumbo, led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge.
At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world — 50% longer than any previously built — and it has become a treasured landmark. For several years the towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere. Since the 1980s, it has been floodlit at night to highlight its architectural features. The towers are built of limestone, granite, and Rosendale cement. Their architectural style is neo-Gothic, with characteristic pointed arches above the passageways through the stone towers.
The bridge was designed by German-born John Augustus Roebling in Trenton, New Jersey. Roebling had earlier designed and constructed other suspension bridges, such as Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Waco Suspension Bridge in Waco, Texas, that served as the engineering prototypes for the final design.
During surveying for the East River Bridge project, Roebling's foot was badly injured by a ferry, pinning it against a pylon; within a few weeks, he died of tetanus. His son, Washington, succeeded him, but in 1872 was stricken with caisson disease (decompression sickness, commonly known as "the bends"), due to working in compressed air in caissons. The occurrence of the disease in the caisson workers caused him to halt construction of the Manhattan side of the tower 30 feet (10 m) short of bedrock when soil tests underneath the caisson found bedrock to be even deeper than expected. Today, the Manhattan tower rests only on sand. Washington's wife, Emily Warren Roebling, became his aide, learning engineering and communicating his wishes to the on-site assistants. When the bridge opened, she was the first person to cross it. Washington Roebling rarely visited the site again.
and streetcar tracks and trains, ca. 1905]] At the time the bridge was built, the aerodynamics of bridge building had not been worked out. Bridges were not tested in wind tunnels until the 1950s — well after the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie) in 1940. It is therefore fortunate that the open truss structure supporting the deck is by its nature less subject to aerodynamic problems. Roebling designed a bridge and truss system that was six times as strong as he thought it needed to be. Because of this, the Brooklyn Bridge is still standing when many of the bridges built around the same time have vanished into history and been replaced. This is also in spite of the substitution of inferior quality wire in the cabling supplied by the contractor J. Lloyd Haigh — by the time it was discovered, it was too late to replace the cabling that had already been constructed. Roebling determined that the poorer wire would leave the bridge four rather than six times as strong as necessary, so it was eventually allowed to stand, with the addition of 250 cables. Diagonal cables were installed from the towers to the deck, intended to stiffen the bridge. They turned out to be unnecessary, but were kept for their distinctive beauty.
After the collapse in 2007 of the I-35W highway bridge in the city of Minneapolis, increased public attention has been brought to bear on the condition of bridges across the US, and it has been reported that the Brooklyn Bridge approach ramps received a rating of "poor" at its last inspection. According to a NYC Department of Transportation spokesman, "The poor rating it received does not mean it is unsafe. Poor means there are some components that have to be rehabilitated.” A $725 million project to replace the approaches and repaint the bridge is scheduled to begin in 2009.
The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is detailed in the 1978 book The Great Bridge by David McCullough and Brooklyn Bridge (1981), the first PBS documentary film ever made by Ken Burns. Burns drew heavily on McCullough's book for the film and used him as narrator. It is also described in Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, a BBC docudrama series with accompanying book.
The first person to jump from the bridge was Robert E. Odlum on May 19, 1885. He struck the water at an angle and died shortly thereafter from internal injuries.
At various times, the bridge has carried horse-drawn and trolley traffic; at present, it has six lanes for motor vehicles, with a separate walkway along the centerline for pedestrians and bicycles. Due to the roadway's height (11 feet posted) and weight (6,000 lb posted) restrictions, commercial vehicles and buses are prohibited from using this bridge. The two inside traffic lanes once carried elevated trains of the BMT from Brooklyn points to a terminal at Park Row via Sands Street. Streetcars ran on what are now the two center lanes (shared with other traffic) until the elevated lines stopped using the bridge in 1944, when they moved to the protected center tracks. In 1950 the streetcars also stopped running, and the bridge was rebuilt to carry six lanes of automobile traffic.
On March 1, 1994, Lebanese-born Rashid Baz opened fire on a van carrying members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish Movement, striking sixteen-year-old student Ari Halberstam and three others traveling on the bridge. Halberstam died five days later from his wounds. Baz was apparently acting out of revenge for the Hebron massacre of 29 Muslims by Baruch Goldstein that had taken place days earlier on February 25, 1994. Baz was convicted of murder and sentenced to a 141-year prison term. After initially classifying the murder as one committed out of road rage, the Justice Department reclassified the case in 2000 as a terrorist attack. The entrance ramp to the bridge on the Manhattan side was named the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp in memory of the victim.
In 2003, truck driver Iyman Faris was sentenced to about 20 years in prison for providing material support to Al-Qaeda, after an earlier plot to destroy the bridge by cutting through its support wires with blowtorches was thwarted through information the National Security Agency uncovered through wiretapped phone conversations and interrogation of Al-Qaeda militants.
In 2006, a Cold War era bunker was found by city workers near the East River shoreline of Manhattan's Lower East Side. The bunker, hidden within the masonry anchorage, still contained the emergency supplies that were being stored for a potential nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.
Beginning on May 22, 2008, festivities were held over a five-day period to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. The events kicked off with a live performance of the Brooklyn Philharmonic in Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park, followed by special lighting of the bridge's towers and a fireworks display. Other events held during the 125th anniversary celebrations, which coincided with the Memorial Day weekend, included a film series, historical walking tours, information tents, a series of lectures and readings, a bicycle tour of Brooklyn, a miniature golf course featuring Brooklyn icons, and other musical and dance performances.
Just before the anniversary celebrations, a telectroscope linking New York and London was located on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The installation lasted for a few weeks and permitted viewers in New York to see people looking into a matching telectroscope in front of London's Tower Bridge. A newly renovated pedestrian connection to DUMBO was also unveiled before the anniversary celebrations.
The Brooklyn Bridge is accessible from the Brooklyn entrances of Tillary/Adams Streets, Sands/Pearl Streets, and Exit 28B of the eastbound Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. In Manhattan, motor cars can enter from either direction of the FDR Drive, Park Row, Chambers/Centre Streets, and Pearl/Frankfort Streets. Pedestrian access to the bridge from the Brooklyn side is from either Tillary/Adams Streets (in between the auto entrance/exit), or a staircase on Prospect St between Cadman Plaza East and West. In Manhattan, the pedestrian walkway is accessible from the end of Centre Street, or through the unpaid south staircase of Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall IRT subway station.
The Brooklyn Bridge has a wide pedestrian walkway open to walkers and cyclists, in the center of the bridge and higher than the automobile lanes. While the bridge has always permitted the passage of pedestrians across its span, its role in allowing thousands to cross takes on a special importance in times of difficulty when usual means of crossing the East River have become unavailable.
During transit strikes by the Transport Workers Union in 1980 and 2005, the bridge was used by people commuting to work, with Mayors Koch and Bloomberg crossing the bridge as a gesture to the affected public.
Following the 1965, 1977 and 2003 Blackouts and most famously after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the bridge was used by people in Manhattan to leave the city after subway service was suspended. The massive numbers of people on the bridge could not have been anticipated by the original designer, yet John Roebling designed it with three separate systems managing even unanticipated structural stresses. The bridge has a suspension system, a diagonal stay system, and a stiffening truss. "Roebling himself famously said if anything happens to one of [his] systems, 'The bridge may sag, but it will not fall.'" The movement of large numbers of people on a bridge creates pedestrian oscillations or "sway" as the crowd lifts one foot after another, some falling inevitably in synchronized cadences. The natural sway motion of people walking causes small sideways oscillations in a bridge, which in turn cause people on the bridge to sway in step, increasing the amplitude of the bridge oscillations and continually reinforcing the effect. This high-density traffic causes a bridge to appear to move erratically or "to wobble" as happened at opening of the London Millennium Footbridge in 2000.
Contemporaries marveled at what technology was capable of and the bridge became a symbol of the optimism of the time. John Perry Barlow wrote in the late 20th century of the "literal and genuinely religious leap of faith" embodied in the Brooklyn Bridge ... the Brooklyn Bridge required of its builders faith in their ability to control technology."
References to "selling the Brooklyn Bridge" abound in American culture, sometimes as examples of rural gullibility but more often in connection with an idea that strains credulity. For example, "If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you." References are often nowadays more oblique, such as "I could sell you some lovely riverside property in Brooklyn ... ". George C. Parker and William McCloundy are two early 20th-century con-men who had (allegedly) successfully perpetrated this scam on unwitting tourists.
In his second book The Bridge, Hart Crane begins with a poem entitled "Proem: To Brooklyn Bridge." The bridge was a source of inspiration for Crane and he owned different apartments specifically to have different views of the bridge.
|U.S. National Register of Historic Places|
|U.S. National Historic Landmark|
|Added to NRHP:||1966|
|Designated NHL:||January 29, 1964|