The Brooklyn Bridge, which spans New York's East River to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn, was completed in 1883. Extending 1595 feet (486 meters), it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was finished. The bridge hangs from steel cables that are almost 16 inches (41 centimeters) thick. The cables are suspended from stone and masonry towers that are 275 feet (84 meters) tall. Upon opening, the span was celebrated as a feat of modern engineering and, with its twin gothic towers, as an architectural landmark of considerable grace and beauty.
The Brooklyn Bridge was conceived of and designed by German American engineer John Augustus Roebling (1806–1869) who first proposed the project in 1857. Roebling's earlier accomplishments included a span over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Monongahela River (1846) and one over the Niagara River at Niagara Falls (1855), between New York and Ontario. The engineer's plans for the Brooklyn Bridge (officially called the East River Bridge) were approved in 1869; Roebling died one month later. He was succeeded by his son, Washington Augustus Roebling (1837–1926), who took on the role of chief engineer. Specially designed watertight chambers allowed for the construction of the two towers whose bases were built on the floor of the East River. The project proved to be an enormous and dangerous undertaking. Underwater workers, including Roebling, suffered from the bends—a serious and potentially fatal blood condition caused by the decrease in pressure that results from rising from the water's depth too quickly. But man prevailed against the elements, and after fourteen laborious years, on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was inaugurated. Five years later Brooklyn became a borough of New York City. In 1964 the bridge was designated a national historic landmark.
See also: John Augustus Roebeling
BROOKLYN BRIDGE. This steel-cable and stone-tower suspension bridge was the outstanding American engineering achievement of the late nineteenth century for three reasons: its towers were based on foundations built up from underwater caisson excavations, it made novel use of steel cables, and its main span was 1,595 feet in length. Built between 1869 and 1883 from a design by John Roebling and his son Washington, and costing $15 million, it served as the first bridge across the East River and connected Brooklyn and New York. An accident took John Roebling's life early during construction, and Washington was severely crippled subsequently. The beauty and utility of the bridge make it one of New York's enduring symbols.
Brooklyn Museum. The Great East River Bridge, 1883–1983. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Museum, 1983.
McCullough, David G. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Trachtenberg, Alan. Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol. 2d edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
See alsoBridges .