Considered as one of the most famous and magnificent landmarks in New York City, the Brooklyn Bridge, built between 1869 and 1883, connects Manhattan with New York's most populous borough, Brooklyn. Founded by the Dutch settlers in the 17th century, Brooklyn was an independent city, at the time of construction of the bridge. Fifteen years after the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, the citizens of the city decided in a close vote to become a borough of New York in 1898.
The idea of the bridge was conceived by John Roebling, a German immigrant. He studied industrial engineering in Berlin and immigrated to America at the age of 25. Gradually, he earned a reputation as a designer of suspension bridges and successfully bridged the Niagara Gorge at Niagara Falls and the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he never saw the wonderful Brooklyn Bridge that he had designed. Just before construction began in 1869, Roebling was fatally injured, when a boat smashed the toes of one of his feet against a piling, while he was taking a few final compass readings across the East River. Though his crushed toes were amputated, he developed a tetanus infection and died in 1869. After his death, his son Washington Roebling took over the leadership of the project, who had earlier worked with his father on several bridges and had helped him in designing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Construction of the bridge began in 1869 and was opened for use on May 24, 1883.It is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States and was the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge, as well as the first fixed crossing across the East River. However, out of six hundred workers engaged in the project, at least two dozen people died in the process, including its original designer and many more suffered decompression sickness.
The Brooklyn Bridge has a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) and a height of 276.5 feet (84.3 m) above mean high water. Though technically it is a suspension bridge, it uses a hybrid cable-stayed-cum-suspension bridge design. The strong towers of the bridge are built of limestone, granite and Rosendate cement. The towers with huge and attractive Gothic arches reach a height of 276 ft (84 meters) and at that time they were among some of the tallest landmarks in New York. To make a solid foundation for the bridge, the riverbed was excavated in massive airtight wooden boxes called caissons, which were pinned to the river’s floor by enormous granite blocks, while pressurized air was pumped in to keep water and debris out. The whole weight of the bridge still sits upon the 15-foot-thick southern yellow-pine wood under the sediment. Among its numerous cables, the four strongest have a diameter of 11 inches (28 cm), which are anchored in the ground to keep the bridge suspended. However, even if they would snip, the other cables would still be sufficient to support the bridge and save it from collapsing.
To build the structure’s massive foundation, workers had to toil in the caissons or sealed chambers that kept the riverbed dry and allowed for digging. For breathing, those workers had no other way, but to depend on compressed air. Hence, when they came up from the depths, they became vulnerable to ‘caisson disease, better known today as the ‘Bends’. In 1872, Roebling himself became bedridden with this decompression sickness. During that time, his wife Emily Warren Roebling took the command of the project, overseeing the design, construction, and business management of the tremendous undertaking. Upon its completion, Emily Warren Roebling rode the first carriage across from the Brooklyn side, carrying a rooster as a symbol of victory. Today, she is widely recognized as a pioneering female engineer and a driving force behind the bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge is equipped with numerous passageways and compartments in its anchorages. It is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States and was the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge, as well as the first fixed crossing across the East River. However, the name of the bridge evolved over time. In 1867, the ‘Brooklyn Daily Eagle’, a daily newspaper, referred the project as the ‘Brooklyn Bridge’. But in its early days, it was called the ‘Great East River Suspension Bridge’ or simply as the ‘Great East River Bridge’. At its dedication in 1883, the bridge was officially named the ‘New York and Brooklyn Bridge’, since at time Brooklyn was not a part of New York. Finally, the official name was changed to the ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ in 1915.
Thousands of people attended the opening ceremony of the bridge on 24 May 1883. Apart from the presence of a number of ships in the East Bay, the festivity included the performance of a band, gunfire from ships, and a fireworks display. On that day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed what was then the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. However, on 30 May in the same year, only six days after the opening, a woman fell down the stairway, which caused a stampede. The sudden incident was responsible for at least twelve people being crushed and killed. It created a panic and gave birth to a rumour that the bridge would collapse. Later, PT Barnum, the famous showman helped to squelch doubts about the stability of the Brooklyn Bridge, when on 17 May 1884, he led a parade of 21 elephants over the bridge, while publicizing his famous circus.
Since its inception, the Brooklyn Bridge looms majestically over New York City’s East River, linking Manhattan and Brooklyn. Since that time, its granite towers and steel cables have offered a safe and scenic passage to millions of commuters and tourists, trains and bicycles, pushcarts and cars.