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The Brooklyn Bridge (originally the New York and Brooklyn Bridge), one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, stretches 5,989 feet (1825 m)[1] over the East River connecting the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. On completion, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world and the first steel-wire suspension bridge.

History Edit

Construction began in January 3, 1870. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed thirteen years later and was opened for use on May 24, 1883. On that first day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed. The bridge's main span over the East River is 1,595 feet 6 inches (486.3 meters). The bridge cost $15.1 million to build and approximately 27 people died during its construction. A week after the opening, on May 30, a rumor that the Bridge was going to collapse caused a stampede which crushed twelve people.

At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world — fifty percent longer than any previously built — and it has become a treasured landmark. Additionally, 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 bridge is built from limestone, granite, and Rosendale natural cement. The architecture style is Gothic, with characteristic pointed arches above the passageways through the stone towers.

The bridge was designed by an engineering firm owned by John Augustus Roebling in Trenton, New Jersey. Roebling and his firm had built earlier and smaller 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.

As construction was beginning, Roebling's foot was seriously injured by a ferry when it crashed into a wharf; within a few weeks, he died of tetanus caused by the amputation of his toes. His son, Washington, succeeded him, but was stricken with caisson disease (decompression sickness, commonly known as 'the bends'), due to working in compressed air in caissons, in 1872. 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, actually residing in Trenton, New Jersey, and elsewhere during most of its construction. In truth, he spent little time looking through the telescope at the project, his near-sightedness causing the most trouble.[2]

At the time the bridge was built, the aerodynamics of bridge building had not been worked out. Bridges were not tested in {{Wikipedia reference 2|wind tunnel|wind tunnels]] until the 1950s - well after the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the 1940s. 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 have been replaced. This is also in spite of the nefarious 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.

At various times, the bridge has carried horses and trolley traffic; at present, it has six lanes for motor vehicles, with a separate walkway along the centerline for pedestrians and {{Wikipedia reference 2|bicycle|bicycles]]. The two inside traffic lanes once carried elevated trains of the BMT from {{Wikipedia reference|Brooklyn]] points to a terminal at Park Row. 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.

The BMT bridge tracks were planned to connect to what is now the Nassau Street Line subway at Chambers Street to form part of the never-finished Centre Street Loop.

The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 17, 1977 and on March 24, 1983 the bridge was designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark.

The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is detailed in the 1972 book The Great Bridge by David McCullough and in the first PBS documentary film ever made by Ken Burns, Brooklyn Bridge (1980). Burns drew heavily on McCullough's book for the film and used him as narrator.

The bridge now imposes a weight limit of 3 short tons (2.7 tonnes) with no trucks or buses allowed.

No tolls are charged for cars to use the bridge.


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 to show solidarity with the inconvenienced 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.

External links Edit

Further readingEdit

  • McCullough, David. (1972). The Great Bridge. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21213-3
  • Cadbury, Deborah (2004), Dreams of Iron and Steel, New York, NY, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-716307-X
Crossings of the East River
Upstream
Manhattan Bridge
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Brooklyn Bridge
Downstream
Cranberry Street Tunnel
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