The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge under construction in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The Brooklyn Bridge, originally called the East River Bridge, under construction.

When the Brooklyn Bridge, originally called the East River Bridge, opened to the public on May 24,1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. On its first day, approximately 1,800 vehicles and 150,000 people crossed the 1.1 mile span between Manhattan and Brooklyn, with Emily Warren Roebling (wife of Washington Roebling) as the first to ride over the completed bridge. Today the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walkway, a wooden boardwalk 11 feet above the lanes traveled by automobiles, caters to more than 4,000 pedestrians and 3,000 cyclists each day, while over 150,000 cars whiz by below. And though there were serious doubts as to the stability of this bridge (probably because so many other bridges had collapsed prior to its construction), the Brooklyn Bridge has remained a dependable means of crossing the East River, and was designated as a National Historic & Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.

The bridge's underwater caisson in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The bridge’s underwater caisson (photo: The Brooklyn Museum)

Initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, who had successfully constructed shorter suspension bridges in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Niagara Falls, the project supervision had to be turned over to John’s son, Washington, when he died (July 1869) from an intentionally untreated infection resulting from a crushed foot. Construction began on January 3, 1980, and not long after, Washington Roebling was also afflicted with a paralyzing illness called caisson disease, caused from improper decompression during riverbed work for the bridge’s foundation. More than 100 other underwater (depths of 40 to 80 feet) workers, known as sand hogs, sustained debilitating injuries from this hazardous job, for which they were paid $2 a day. The Brooklyn Bridge cost $15 million to build utilizing approximately 600 workers, sustaining slightly over two dozen losses during the 14 years of the bridge’s construction.

A plaque commemorating Emily Roebling's contributions in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A plaque commemorating Emily Roebling’s contributions (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Although disabled, all was not lost, as Washington Roebling continued to oversee the entire construction from his apartment (with a view of the bridge), designing and redesigning many aspects and equipment. Yet all his works would not have been possible without the perseverance and loyalty of his wife, Emily, who, under his tutelage, learned the higher mathematics and calculations necessary for understanding the intricacies of cable construction. In fact, Emily spent 11 years assisting her husband (carrying messages and instructions back and forth between the bed-ridden chief engineer and his staff), often providing valuable insight into the bridge’s construction.

Click here to see another fabulous bridge, the Walkway Over the Hudson

A Gothic tower overlooks the city skyline in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A Gothic tower overlooks the city skyline (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The history of the Brooklyn Bridge; from the sheer determination and dedication of its designer, John Roebling, to the incredible workmanship and strength of its unprecedented structure, is interesting and inspiring. But it is during the walk across this magnificent span that you are able to fully grasp the enormity of such a project. Each tower is constructed from pieces of limestone and granite (shaped and quarried from Maine) so immense it seems incomprehensible that this was assembled by man power alone. Be sure to take a moment to closely examine the towers and observe how perfectly each hand chiseled block was placed to create the stunning arched forms.

** The High Line is only minutes from the Brooklyn Bridge **

A view through the cables in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A view through the bridge’s cables (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Colossal wire cables formed in a distinguished crisscross web are often considered the most recognizable part of the Brooklyn Bridge, however, there is far more to these twisted wires than meets the eye. The four main cables are the longest and heaviest ever made; containing over 14,000 miles of wire and weighing over 3,500 tons. Because other companies did not produce cables that met John Roebling’s strict criteria, he formed his own business in 1848, the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company in Trenton, New Jersey. Using a method he patented, Roebling manufactured the cables for several other bridges, most notably the ones for the Brooklyn Bridge, which took 18 months to complete. Unfortunately, it was discovered that wire supplied for the cables by J. Lloyd Haigh was of inferior quality, so an additional 250 cables were added, along with diagonal cables from the towers to the deck. These changes provided four times the necessary strength required, somewhat less than the original design of six times stronger.

The Statue of Liberty viewed from the bridge in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The Statue of Liberty viewed from the bridge (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Strength and durability were essential to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, second only to the beauty of its towers and cabling design. With each 276 foot tall Gothic tower planted securely at the bottom of the East River, and a deck utilizing the most modern steel manufacturing technology available (as opposed to the less desirable iron), the Brooklyn Bridge remains one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. This bridge is a glowing example of one man’s unwavering vision and a miracle of craftsmanship that will endure for decades to come.


  1. Thanks for the interesting post. Roebling cables were also used in the Waco, Texas suspension bridge built in 1870. At the time it had the longest span of any bridge west of the Mississippi and was the crossing for the Chisolm Trail.

    • Thank you, Jean! You know I thought I found information about a bridge in Texas that Roebling was involved with, but when I checked back into my records I couldn’t find the info, so I decided to omit it. I really appreciate you adding this interesting tidbit of information. I love my readers!

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