A postally unused postcard that was published by the Manhattan Post Card Co. of New York City.
On the divided back of the card the publishers have printed:
"Brooklyn Bridge running over the
East River from Park Row in Manhattan
to Sands Street, Brooklyn.
Construction began in 1870; open to
traffic 1883; cost $21,000,000.
Total length 6,537 feet, width 85 feet."
Note the slight upward curve of the main span. The curve helps to dissipate the force of the weight of the people and vehicles on the bridge lengthways instead of downwards like on a linear bridge. The curve produces a horizontal thrust restrained by the abutments at either end. This means that the bridge can handle more weight without breaking.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge. Opened on the 24th. May 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the first fixed crossing of the East River.
It was also the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening, with a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m).
The bridge was designed by John A. Roebling. The project’s chief engineer, his son Washington Roebling, contributed further design work, assisted by the latter’s wife, Emily Warren Roebling.
Construction started in 1870, with the Tammany Hall-controlled New York Bridge Company overseeing construction, although numerous controversies and the novelty of the design prolonged the project over thirteen years.
Since opening, the Brooklyn Bridge has undergone several reconfigurations, having carried horse-drawn vehicles and elevated railway lines until 1950.
To alleviate increasing traffic flows, additional bridges and tunnels were built across the East River. Following gradual deterioration, the Brooklyn Bridge has been renovated several times, including in the 1950’s, 1980’s, and 2010’s.
The Brooklyn Bridge is the southernmost of the four toll-free vehicular bridges connecting Manhattan Island and Long Island, with the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the Queensboro Bridge to the north. Only passenger vehicles and pedestrian and bicycle traffic are permitted.
A major tourist attraction since its opening, the Brooklyn Bridge has become an icon of New York City. Over the years, the bridge has been used as the location for various stunts and performances, as well as several crimes and attacks.
Description of Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge, an early example of a steel-wire suspension bridge, uses a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge design, with both vertical and diagonal suspender cables.
Its stone towers are neo-Gothic, with characteristic pointed arches. The New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), which maintains the bridge, says that its original paint scheme was "Brooklyn Bridge Tan" and "Silver", although a writer for The New York Post states that it was originally entirely "Rawlins Red".
The Deck of the Brooklyn Bridge
To provide sufficient clearance for shipping in the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge incorporates long approach viaducts on either end to raise it from low ground on both shores.
Including approaches, the Brooklyn Bridge is a total of 6,016 feet (1,834 m) long. The main span between the two suspension towers is 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) long, and 85 feet (26 m) wide.
The bridge elongates and contracts between the extremes of temperature from 14 to 16 inches. Navigational clearance is 127 ft (38.7 m) above mean high water. A 1909 Engineering Magazine article said that, at the center of the span, the height could fluctuate by more than 9 feet (2.7 m) due to temperature and traffic loads.
At the time of construction, engineers had not yet discovered the aerodynamics of bridge construction, and bridge designs were not tested in wind tunnels.
It was coincidental that the open truss structure supporting the deck is, by its nature, subject to fewer aerodynamic problems. This is because John Roebling designed the Brooklyn Bridge’s truss system to be six to eight times stronger than he thought it needed to be.
However, due to a supplier’s fraudulent substitution of inferior-quality cable in the initial construction, the bridge was reappraised at the time as being only four times as strong as necessary.
The Brooklyn Bridge can hold a total load of 18,700 short tons, a design consideration from when it originally carried heavier elevated trains.
An elevated pedestrian-only promenade runs in between the two roadways and 18 feet (5.5 m) above them. The path is 10 to 17 feet (3.0 to 5.2 m) wide. The iron railings were produced by Janes & Kirtland, a Bronx iron foundry that also made the United States Capitol dome and the Bow Bridge in Central Park.
The Cables of Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge contains four main cables, which descend from the tops of the suspension towers and support the deck. Each main cable measures 15.75 inches (40.0 cm) in diameter, and contains 5,282 parallel, galvanized steel wires wrapped closely together. These wires are bundled in 19 individual strands, with 278 wires to a strand.
This was the first use of bundling in a suspension bridge, and took several months for workers to tie together. Since the 2000’s, the main cables have also supported a series of 24-watt LED lighting fixtures, referred to as "necklace lights" due to their shape.
1,520 galvanized steel wire suspender cables hang downward from the main cables.
Brooklyn Bridge Anchorages
Each side of the bridge contains an anchorage for the main cables. The anchorages are limestone structures located slightly inland, measuring 129 by 119 feet (39 by 36 m) at the base and 117 by 104 feet (36 by 32 m) at the top.
Each anchorage weighs 60,000 short tons. The Manhattan anchorage rests on a foundation of bedrock, while the Brooklyn anchorage rests on clay.
The anchorages contain numerous passageways and compartments. Starting in 1876, in order to fund the bridge’s maintenance, the New York City government made the large vaults under the bridge’s Manhattan anchorage available for rent, and they were in constant use during the early 20th. century.
The vaults were used to store wine, as they maintained a consistent 60 °F (16 °C) temperature due to a lack of air circulation. The Manhattan vault was called the "Blue Grotto" because of a shrine to the Virgin Mary next to an opening at the entrance.
The vaults were closed for public use in the late 1910’s and 1920’s during the Great War and Prohibition, but were reopened thereafter.
When New York magazine visited one of the cellars in 1978, it discovered a fading inscription on a wall reading:
"Who loveth not wine, women and song,
he remaineth a fool his whole life long."
Leaks found within the vault’s spaces necessitated repairs during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. By the late 1990’s, the chambers were being used to store maintenance equipment.
The Towers of the Brooklyn Bridge
The bridge’s two suspension towers are 278 feet (85 m) tall, with a footprint of 140 by 59 feet (43 by 18 m) at the high water line.
They are built of limestone, granite, and Rosendale cement. The limestone was quarried at the Clark Quarry in Essex County, New York. The granite blocks were quarried and shaped on Vinalhaven Island, Maine, under a contract with the Bodwell Granite Company, and delivered from Maine to New York by schooner.
The Manhattan tower contains 46,945 cubic yards (35,892 m3) of masonry, while the Brooklyn tower has 38,214 cubic yards (29,217 m3) of masonry.
Each tower contains a pair of Gothic Revival pointed arches, through which the roadways run. The arch openings are 117 feet (36 m) tall and 33.75 feet (10.29 m) wide.
The Brooklyn Bridge Caissons
The towers rest on underwater caissons made of southern yellow pine. Both caissons contain interior spaces that were used by construction workers. The Manhattan side’s caisson is slightly larger, measuring 172 by 102 feet (52 by 31 m) and located 78.5 feet (23.9 m) below high water, while the Brooklyn side’s caisson measures 168 by 102 feet (51 by 31 m) and is located 44.5 feet (13.6 m) below high water.
The caissons were designed to hold at least the weight of the towers which would exert a pressure of 5 short tons per square foot when fully built, but the caissons were over-engineered for safety.
During an accident on the Brooklyn side, when air pressure was lost and the partially-built towers dropped full-force down, the caisson sustained an estimated pressure of 23 short tons per square foot with only minor damage. Most of the timber used in the bridge’s construction, including in the caissons, came from mills at Gascoigne Bluff on St. Simons Island, Georgia.
The Brooklyn side’s caisson, which was built first, originally had a height of 9.5 feet (2.9 m) and a ceiling composed of five layers of timber, each layer 1 foot (0.30 m) tall. Ten more layers of timber were later added atop the ceiling, and the entire caisson was wrapped in tin and wood for further protection against flooding.
The thickness of the caisson’s sides was 8 feet (2.4 m) at both the bottom and the top. The caisson had six chambers: two each for dredging, supply shafts, and airlocks.
The caisson on the Manhattan side was slightly different because it had to be installed at a greater depth. To protect against the increased air pressure at that depth, the Manhattan caisson had 22 layers of timber on its roof, seven more than its Brooklyn counterpart had. The Manhattan caisson also had fifty 4-inch (10 cm)-diameter pipes for sand removal, a fireproof iron-boilerplate interior, and different airlocks and communication systems.
History of the Brooklyn Bridge
Proposals for a bridge between the then-separate cities of Brooklyn and New York had been suggested as early as 1800. At the time, the only travel between the two cities was by a number of ferry lines.
Engineers presented various designs, such as chain or link bridges, though these were never built because of the difficulties of constructing a high enough fixed-span bridge across the extremely busy East River.
There were also proposals for tunnels under the East River, but these were considered prohibitively expensive. The current Brooklyn Bridge was conceived by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling in 1852.
He had previously designed and constructed shorter suspension bridges, such as Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, and the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky.
In February 1867, the New York State Senate passed a bill that allowed the construction of a suspension bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Two months later, the New York and Brooklyn Bridge Company was incorporated. There were twenty trustees in total: eight each appointed by the mayors of New York and Brooklyn, as well as the mayors of each city and the auditor and comptroller of Brooklyn.
The company was tasked with constructing what was then known as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. Alternatively, the span was just referred to as the "Brooklyn Bridge", a name originating in a 25th. January 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The act of incorporation, which became law on the 16th. April 1867, authorized the cities of New York (now Manhattan) and Brooklyn to subscribe to $5 million in capital stock, which would fund the bridge’s construction.
Roebling was subsequently named as the main engineer of the work, and by September 1867, he had presented a master plan of a bridge that would be longer and taller than any suspension bridge previously built.
It would incorporate roadways and elevated rail tracks, whose tolls and fares would provide the means to pay for the bridge’s construction. It would also include a raised promenade that served as a leisurely pathway.
The proposal received much acclaim in both cities, and residents predicted that the New York and Brooklyn Bridge’s opening would have as much of an impact as the Suez Canal, the first transatlantic telegraph cable, or the first transcontinental railroad.
By early 1869, however, some individuals started to criticize the project, saying either that the bridge was too expensive, or that the construction process was too difficult.
To allay concerns about the design of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, Roebling set up a "Bridge Party" in March 1869, where he invited engineers and members of U.S. Congress to see his other spans. Following the bridge party in April, Roebling and several engineers conducted final surveys.
During these surveys, it was determined that the main span would have to be raised from 130 to 135 feet (40 to 41 m), requiring several changes to the overall design.
In June 1869, while conducting these surveys, Roebling sustained a crush injury to his foot when a ferry pinned it against a piling. After amputation of his crushed toes, he developed a tetanus infection that left him incapacitated and resulted in his death the following month.
Washington Roebling, John Roebling’s 32-year-old son, was then hired to fill his father’s role. When the younger Roebling was hired, Tammany Hall leader William M. Tweed also became involved in the bridge’s construction because, as a major landowner in New York City, he had an interest in the project’s completion.
The New York and Brooklyn Bridge Company – later known simply as the New York Bridge Company – was actually overseen by Tammany Hall, and it approved Roebling’s plans and designated him as chief engineer of the project.
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began on the 2nd. January 2, 1870. The first work entailed the construction of two caissons, upon which the suspension towers would be built.
A caisson is a large watertight chamber, open at the bottom, from which the water is kept out by air pressure and in which construction work may be carried out under water.
The Brooklyn side’s caisson was built at the Webb & Bell shipyard in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and was launched into the river on the 19th. March 1870. Compressed air was pumped into the caisson, and workers entered the space to dig the sediment until it sank to the bedrock. As one sixteen-year-old from Ireland, Frank Harris, described the fearful experience:
"The six of us were working naked to the waist
in the small iron chamber with the temperature
of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
In five minutes the sweat was pouring from us,
and all the while we were standing in icy water
that was only kept from rising by the terrific
pressure. No wonder the headaches were
Once the caisson had reached the desired depth, it was to be filled in with vertical brick piers and concrete. However, due to the unexpectedly high concentration of large boulders on the riverbed, the Brooklyn caisson took several months to sink to the desired depth.
Furthermore, in December 1870, its timber roof caught fire, delaying construction further. The "Great Blowout", as the fire was called, delayed construction for several months, since the holes in the caisson had to be repaired.
On the 6th. March 1871, the repairs were finished, and the caisson had reached its final depth of 44.5 feet (13.6 m); it was filled with concrete five days later. Overall, about 264 individuals were estimated to have worked in the caisson every day, but because of high worker turnover, the final total was thought to be about 2,500 men.
In spite of this, only a few workers were paralyzed. At its final depth, the caisson’s air pressure was 21 pounds per square inch. Normal air pressure is 14.7 psi.
The Manhattan side’s caisson was the next structure to be built. To ensure that it would not catch fire like its counterpart had, the Manhattan caisson was lined with fireproof plate iron.
It was launched from Webb & Bell’s shipyard on the 11th. May 1871, and maneuvered into place that September.
Due to the extreme underwater air pressure inside the much deeper Manhattan caisson, many workers became sick with "the bends" – decompression sickness – during this work, despite the incorporation of airlocks (which were believed to help with decompression sickness at the time).
This condition was unknown at the time, and was first called "caisson disease" by the project physician, Andrew Smith. Between the 25th. January and the 31st. May 1872, Smith treated 110 cases of decompression sickness, while three workers died from the condition.
When iron probes underneath the Manhattan caisson found the bedrock to be even deeper than expected, Washington Roebling halted construction due to the increased risk of decompression sickness.
After the Manhattan caisson reached a depth of 78.5 feet (23.9 m) with an air pressure of 35 pounds per square inch, Washington deemed the sandy subsoil overlying the bedrock 30 feet (9.1 m) beneath to be sufficiently firm, and subsequently infilled the caisson with concrete in July 1872.
Washington Roebling himself suffered a paralyzing injury as a result of caisson disease shortly after ground was broken for the Brooklyn tower foundation.
His debilitating condition left him unable to supervise the construction in person, so he designed the caissons and other equipment from his apartment, directing the completion of the bridge through a telescope in his bedroom.
His wife, Emily Warren Roebling, not only provided written communications between her husband and the engineers on site, but also understood mathematics, calculations of catenary curves, strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction.
She spent the next 11 years helping supervise the bridge’s construction, taking over much of the chief engineer’s duties, including day-to-day supervision and project management.
The Towers of the Brooklyn Bridge
After the caissons were completed, piers were constructed on top of each of them upon which masonry towers would be built. The towers’ construction was a complex process that took four years.
Since the masonry blocks were heavy, the builders transported them to the base of the towers using a pulley system with a continuous 1.5-inch (3.8 cm)-diameter steel wire rope, operated by steam engines at ground level.
The blocks were then carried up on a timber track alongside each tower and maneuvered into the proper position using a derrick atop the towers. The blocks sometimes vibrated the ropes because of their weight, but only once did a block fall.
Construction of the suspension towers started in mid-1872, and by the time work was halted for the winter in late 1872, parts of each tower had already been built. By mid-1873, there was substantial progress on the towers’ construction.
The arches of the Brooklyn tower were completed by August 1874. The tower was substantially finished by December 1874, with the erection of saddle plates for the main cables at the top of the tower.
The last stone on the Brooklyn tower was raised in June 1875, and the Manhattan tower was completed in July 1876.
The work was dangerous: by 1876, three workers had died having fallen from the towers, while nine other workers were killed in other accidents.
By 1875, while the towers were being constructed, the project had depleted its original $5 million budget. Two bridge commissioners, one each from Brooklyn and Manhattan, petitioned New York state lawmakers to allot another $8 million for construction. Legislators authorized the money on condition that the cities would buy the stock of Brooklyn Bridge’s private stockholders.
Work proceeded concurrently on the anchorages on each side. The Brooklyn anchorage broke ground in January 1873 and was substantially completed by August 1875.
The Manhattan anchorage was built in less time. Having started in May 1875, it was mostly completed by July 1876. The anchorages could not be fully completed until the main cables were spun, at which point another 6 feet (1.8 m) would be added to the height of each 80-foot (24 m) anchorage.
The Brooklyn Bridge Cables
The first temporary wire was stretched between the towers on the 15th. August 1876, using chrome steel provided by the Chrome Steel Company of Brooklyn. The wire was then stretched back across the river, and the two ends were spliced to form a traveler, a lengthy loop of wire connecting the towers, which was driven by a 30 horsepower (22 kW) steam hoisting engine at ground level.
The wire was one of two that were used to create a temporary footbridge for workers while cable spinning was ongoing. The next step was to send an engineer across the completed traveler wire in a boatswain’s chair slung from the wire, to ensure it was safe enough.
The bridge’s master mechanic, E. F. Farrington, was volunteered for this task, and an estimated crowd of 10,000 people on both shores watched him cross.
A second traveler wire was then stretched across the span. The temporary footbridge, located some 60 feet (18 m) above the elevation of the future deck, was completed in February 1877.
By December 1876, a steel contract for the permanent cables still had not been awarded. There was disagreement over whether the bridge’s cables should use the as-yet-untested Bessemer steel, or the well-proven crucible steel.
Until a permanent contract was awarded, the builders ordered 30 short tons of wire in the interim, 10 tons each from three companies, including Washington Roebling’s own steel mill in Brooklyn.
In the end, it was decided to use number 8 Birmingham gauge (approximately 4 mm or 0.165 inches in diameter) crucible steel, and a request for bids was distributed, to which eight companies responded.
In January 1877, a contract for crucible steel was awarded to J. Lloyd Haigh, who was associated with bridge trustee Abram Hewitt, whom Roebling distrusted.
The spinning of the wires required the manufacture of large coils of it which were galvanized but not oiled when they left the factory. The coils were delivered to a yard near the Brooklyn anchorage. There they were dipped in linseed oil, hoisted to the top of the anchorage, dried out and spliced into a single wire, and finally coated with red zinc for further galvanizing.
There were thirty-two drums at the anchorage yard, eight for each of the four main cables. Each drum had a capacity of 60,000 feet (18,000 m) of wire. The first experimental wire for the main cables was stretched between the towers on the 29th. May 29 1877, and spinning began two weeks later.
All four main cables had been strung by that July. During that time, the temporary footbridge was unofficially opened to members of the public, who could receive a visitor’s pass; by August 1877 several thousand visitors from around the world had used the footbridge. The visitor passes ceased that September after a visitor had an epileptic seizure and nearly fell off.
As the wires were being spun, work also commenced on the demolition of buildings on either side of the river for the Brooklyn Bridge’s approaches; this work was mostly complete by September 1877. The following month, initial contracts were awarded for the suspender wires, which would hang down from the main cables and support the deck. By May 1878, the main cables were more than two-thirds complete.
However, the following month, one of the wires slipped, killing two people and injuring three others. In 1877, Hewitt wrote a letter urging against the use of Bessemer steel in the bridge’s construction. Bids had been submitted for both crucible steel and Bessemer steel; John A. Roebling’s Sons submitted the lowest bid for Bessemer steel, but at Hewitt’s direction, the contract was awarded to Haigh.
A subsequent investigation discovered that Haigh had substituted inferior quality wire in the cables. Of eighty rings of wire that were tested, only five met standards, and it was estimated that Haigh had earned $300,000 from the deception.
At this point, it was too late to replace the cables that had already been constructed. Roebling determined that the poorer wire would leave the bridge only four times as strong as necessary, rather than six to eight times as strong. The inferior-quality wire was allowed to remain, and 150 extra wires were added to each cable.
To avoid public controversy, Haigh was not fired, but instead was required to personally pay for higher-quality wire. The contract for the remaining wire was awarded to the John A. Roebling’s Sons, and by the 5th. October 1878, the last of the main cables’ wires went over the river.
After the suspender wires had been placed, workers began erecting steel crossbeams to support the roadway as part of the bridge’s overall superstructure. Construction on the bridge’s superstructure started in March 1879, but, as with the cables, the trustees initially disagreed on whether the steel superstructure should be made of Bessemer or crucible steel.
That July, the trustees decided to award a contract for 500 short tons of Bessemer steel to the Edgemoor Iron Works, based in Philadelphia. The trustees later ordered another 500 short tons of Bessemer steel. However, by February 1880 the steel deliveries had not started.
That October, the bridge trustees questioned Edgemoor’s president about the delay in steel deliveries. Despite Edgemoor’s assurances that the contract would be fulfilled, the deliveries still had not been completed by November 1881.
Brooklyn mayor Seth Low, who became part of the board of trustees in 1882, became the chairman of a committee tasked to investigate Edgemoor’s failure to fulfill the contract. When questioned, Edgemoor’s president stated that the delays were the fault of another contractor, the Cambria Iron Company, who were manufacturing the eyebars for the bridge trusses.
Further complicating the situation, Washington Roebling had failed to appear at the trustees’ meeting in June 1882, since he had gone to Newport, Rhode Island. After the news media discovered this, most of the newspapers called for Roebling to be fired as chief engineer, except for the Daily State Gazette of Trenton, New Jersey, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Some of the longstanding trustees were willing to vouch for Roebling, since construction progress on the Brooklyn Bridge was still ongoing. However, Roebling’s behavior was considered suspect among the younger trustees who had joined the board more recently.
Construction progress on the bridge itself was submitted in formal monthly reports to the mayors of New York and Brooklyn. For example, the August 1882 report noted that the month’s progress included 114 intermediate cords erected within a week, as well as 72 diagonal stays, 60 posts, and numerous floor beams, bridging trusses, and stay bars.
By early 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was considered mostly completed and was projected to open that June. Contracts for bridge lighting were awarded by February 1883, and a toll scheme was approved that March.
Opposition to the Bridge
There was substantial opposition to the bridge’s construction from shipbuilders and merchants located to the north, who argued that the bridge would not provide sufficient clearance underneath for ships.
In May 1876, these groups, led by Abraham Miller, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court against the cities of New York and Brooklyn.
In 1879, an Assembly Sub-Committee on Commerce and Navigation began an investigation into the Brooklyn Bridge. A seaman who had been hired to determine the height of the span, testified to the committee about the difficulties that ship masters would experience in bringing their ships under the bridge when it was completed.
Another witness, Edward Wellman Serrell, a civil engineer, said that the calculations of the bridge’s assumed strength were incorrect.
However the Supreme Court decided in 1883 that the Brooklyn Bridge was a lawful structure.
The Opening of the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge was opened for use on the 24th. May 1883. Thousands of people attended the opening ceremony, and many ships were present in the East River for the occasion. Officially, Emily Warren Roebling was the first to cross the bridge.
The bridge opening was also attended by U.S. president Chester A. Arthur and New York mayor Franklin Edson, who crossed the bridge and shook hands with Brooklyn mayor Seth Low at the Brooklyn end. Abram Hewitt gave the principal address:
"It is not the work of any one man or of any one
age. It is the result of the study, of the experience,
and of the knowledge of many men in many ages.
It is not merely a creation; it is a growth. It stands
before us today as the sum and epitome of human
knowledge; as the very heir of the ages; as the
latest glory of centuries of patient observation,
profound study and accumulated skill, gained,
step by step, in the never-ending struggle of man
to subdue the forces of nature to his control and use."
Although Washington Roebling was unable to attend the ceremony (and rarely visited the site again), he held a celebratory banquet at his house on the day of the bridge opening.
Further festivity included a performance by a band, gunfire from ships, and a fireworks display. On that first day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed the span.
Less than a week after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, ferry crews reported a sharp drop in patronage, while the bridge’s toll operators were processing over a hundred people a minute. However, cross-river ferries continued to operate until 1942.
The bridge had cost US$15.5 million in 1883 dollars (about US$436,232,000 in 2021) to build, of which Brooklyn paid two-thirds. The bonds to fund the construction were not paid off until 1956.
An estimated 27 men died during the bridge’s construction. Until the construction of the nearby Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, 20% longer than any built previously.
At the time of opening, the Brooklyn Bridge was not complete; the proposed public transit across the bridge was still being tested, while the Brooklyn approach was being completed.
On the 30th. May 1883, six days after the opening, a woman falling down a stairway at the Brooklyn approach caused a stampede which resulted in at least twelve people being crushed and killed.
In subsequent lawsuits, the Brooklyn Bridge Company was acquitted of negligence. However, the company did install emergency phone boxes and additional railings, and the trustees approved a fireproofing plan for the bridge.
Public transit service began with the opening of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge Railway, a cable car service, on the 25th. September 1883.
On the 17th. May 1884, one of P. T. Barnum’s most famous attractions, Jumbo the elephant, led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge. This helped to lessen doubts about the bridge’s stability while also promoting Barnum’s circus.
Brooklyn Bridge in the Late 19th. & Early 20th. Centuries
Movement across the Brooklyn Bridge increased in the years after it opened; a million people paid to cross in the first six months. The bridge carried 8.5 million people in 1884, its first full year of operation; this number doubled to 17 million in 1885, and again to 34 million in 1889.
Many of these people were cable car passengers. Additionally, about 4.5 million pedestrians a year were crossing the bridge for free by 1892.
The first proposal to make changes to the bridge was sent in only two and a half years after it opened; Linda Gilbert suggested glass steam-powered elevators and an observatory be added to the bridge and a fee charged for use, which would in part fund the bridge’s upkeep and in part fund her prison reform charity.
This proposal was considered, but not acted upon. Numerous other proposals were made during the first fifty years of the bridge’s life.
Trolley tracks were added in the center lanes of both roadways in 1898, allowing trolleys to use the bridge as well.
Concerns about the Brooklyn Bridge’s safety were raised during the turn of the century. In 1898, traffic backups due to a dead horse caused one of the truss cords to buckle.
There were more significant worries after twelve suspender cables snapped in 1901, although a thorough investigation found no other defects.
After the 1901 incident, five inspectors were hired to examine the bridge each day, a service that cost $250,000 a year.
The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, which operated routes across the Brooklyn Bridge, issued a notice in 1905 saying that the bridge had reached its transit capacity.
Although a second deck for the Brooklyn Bridge was proposed, it was thought to be infeasible because doing so would overload the bridge’s structural capacity.
Though tolls had been instituted for carriages and cable-car customers since the bridge’s opening, pedestrians were spared from the tolls originally. However, by the first decade of the 20th. century, pedestrians were also paying tolls.
However tolls on all four bridges across the East River – the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as the Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro bridges to the north – were abolished in July 1911 as part of a populist policy initiative headed by New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor.
Ostensibly in an attempt to reduce traffic on nearby city streets, Grover Whalen, the commissioner of Plant and Structures, banned motor vehicles from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1922. The real reason for the ban was an incident the same year where two cables slipped due to high traffic loads.
Both Whalen and Roebling called for the renovation of the Brooklyn Bridge and the construction of a parallel bridge, although the parallel bridge was never built.
Brooklyn Bridge in Mid- to late 20th. Century
Upgrades to the Bridge
The first major upgrade to the Brooklyn Bridge commenced in 1948, when a contract for redesigning the roadways was awarded to David B. Steinman. The renovation was expected to double the capacity of the bridge’s roadways to nearly 6,000 cars per hour, at a projected cost of $7 million.
The renovation included the demolition of both the elevated and the trolley tracks on the roadways and the widening of each roadway from two to three lanes, as well as the construction of a new steel-and-concrete floor.
In addition, new ramps were added to Adams Street, Cadman Plaza, and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) on the Brooklyn side, and to Park Row on the Manhattan side. The trolley tracks closed in March 1950 to allow for the widening work to occur.
During the construction project, one roadway at a time was closed, allowing reduced traffic flows to cross the bridge in one direction only. The widened south roadway was completed in May 1951, followed by the north roadway in October 1953. In addition, defensive barriers were added to the bridge as a safeguard against sabotage.
The restoration was finished in May 1954 with the completion of the reconstructed elevated promenade.
While the rebuilding of the span was ongoing, a fallout shelter was constructed beneath the Manhattan approach in anticipation of the Cold War. The abandoned space in one of the masonry arches was stocked with emergency survival supplies for a potential nuclear attack by the Soviet Union; these supplies were still in place half a century later.
A repainting of the bridge was announced in advance of its 90th. anniversary.
Deterioration and Late-20th. Century Repair
The Brooklyn Bridge gradually deteriorated due to age and neglect. While it had 200 full-time dedicated maintenance workers before World War II, that number had dropped to five by the late 20th. century, and the city as a whole only had 160 bridge maintenance workers.
In 1974, heavy vehicles such as vans and buses were banned from the bridge to prevent further erosion of the concrete roadway. A report in The New York Times four years later noted that the cables were visibly fraying, and that the pedestrian promenade had holes in it.
The city began planning to replace all the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables at a cost of $115 million, as part of a larger project to renovate all four toll-free East River spans.
By 1980, the Brooklyn Bridge was in such dire condition that it faced imminent closure. In some places, half of the strands in the cables were broken.
In June 1981, two of the diagonal stay cables snapped, seriously injuring a pedestrian who later died. Subsequently, the anchorages were found to have developed rust, and an emergency cable repair was necessitated less than a month later after another cable developed slack.
Following the incident, the city accelerated the timetable of its proposed cable replacement, and it commenced a $153 million rehabilitation of the Brooklyn Bridge in advance of the 100th anniversary.
As part of the project, the bridge’s original suspender cables installed by J. Lloyd Haigh were replaced by Bethlehem Steel in 1986, marking the cables’ first replacement since construction. In a smaller project, the bridge was floodlit at night, starting in 1982 to highlight its architectural features.[
Additional problems persisted, and in 1993, high levels of lead were discovered near the bridge’s towers. Further emergency repairs were undertaken in mid-1999 after small concrete shards began falling from the bridge into the East River. The concrete deck had been installed during the 1950’s renovations, and had a lifespan of about 60 years.
Brooklyn Bridge in the 21st. Century
The Park Row exit from the bridge’s westbound lanes was closed as a safety measure after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the nearby World Trade Center. That section of Park Row was closed since it ran right underneath 1 Police Plaza, the headquarters of the New York City Police Department.
In early 2003, to save money on electricity, the bridge’s "necklace lights" were turned off at night. They were turned back on later that year after several private entities made donations to fund the lights.
After the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, public attention focused on the condition of bridges across the U.S. The New York Times reported that the Brooklyn Bridge approach ramps had received a "poor" rating during an inspection in 2007.
However, a NYCDOT spokesman said that the poor rating did not indicate a dangerous state but rather implied it required renovation. In 2010, the NYCDOT began renovating the approaches and deck, as well as repainting the suspension span.
Work included widening two approach ramps from one to two lanes by re-striping a new prefabricated ramp; seismic retrofitting; replacement of rusted railings and safety barriers; and road deck resurfacing. The work necessitated detours for four years.
At the time, the project was scheduled to be completed in 2014, but completion was later delayed to 2015, then again to 2017. The project’s cost also increased from $508 million in 2010 to $811 million in 2016.
In August 2016, after the renovation had been completed, the NYCDOT announced that it would conduct a seven-month, $370,000 study to verify if the bridge could support a heavier upper deck that consisted of an expanded bicycle and pedestrian path.
As of 2016, about 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists used the pathway on an average weekday. Work on the pedestrian entrance on the Brooklyn side was underway by 2017.
The NYCDOT also indicated in 2016 that it planned to reinforce the Brooklyn Bridge’s foundations to prevent it from sinking, as well as repair the masonry arches on the approach ramps, which had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
In July 2018, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a further renovation of the Brooklyn Bridge’s suspension towers and approach ramps. That December, the federal government gave the city $25 million in funding, which would contribute to a $337 million rehabilitation of the bridge approaches and the suspension towers. Work started in late 2019 and was scheduled to be completed in 2023.
Usage of the Brooklyn Bridge
Horse-drawn carriages have been allowed to use the Brooklyn Bridge’s roadways since its opening. Originally, each of the two roadways carried two lanes of a different direction of traffic. The lanes were relatively narrow at only 8 feet (2.4 m) wide. In 1922, motor vehicles were banned from the bridge, while horse-drawn carriages were restricted from the Manhattan Bridge. Thereafter, the only vehicles allowed on the Brooklyn Bridge were horse-drawn.
By 1950, the main roadway carried six lanes of automobile traffic, three in each direction. It was then reduced to five lanes with the addition of a two-way bike lane on the Manhattan-bound side in 2021.
Because of the roadway’s height (11 ft (3.4 m)) and weight (6,000 lb (2,700 kg)) restrictions, commercial vehicles and buses are prohibited from using the Brooklyn Bridge.
The weight restrictions prohibit heavy passenger vehicles such as pickup trucks and SUVs from using the bridge, though this is not often enforced in practice.
Formerly, rail traffic operated on the Brooklyn Bridge as well. Cable cars and elevated railroads used the bridge until 1944, while trolleys ran until 1950.
A cable car service began operating on the 25th. September 1883; it ran on the inner lanes of the bridge, between terminals at the Manhattan and Brooklyn ends.
Since Washington Roebling believed that steam locomotives would put excessive loads upon the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge, the cable car line was designed as a steam/cable-hauled hybrid.
They were powered from a generating station under the Brooklyn approach. The cable cars could not only regulate their speed on the 3.75% upward and downward approaches, but also maintain a constant interval between each other. There were 24 cable cars in total.
Initially, the service ran with single-car trains, but patronage soon grew so much that by October 1883, two-car trains were in use. The line carried three million people in the first six months, nine million in 1884, and nearly 20 million in 1885.
Patronage continued to increase, and in 1888, the tracks were lengthened and even more cars were constructed to allow for four-car cable car trains. Electric wires for the trolleys were added by 1895, allowing for the potential future decommissioning of the steam/cable system.
The terminals were rebuilt once more in July 1895, and, following the implementation of new electric cars in late 1896, the steam engines were dismantled and sold.
The Brooklyn Bridge Walkway
The Brooklyn Bridge has an elevated promenade open to pedestrians in the center of the bridge, located 18 feet (5.5 m) above the automobile lanes.
The path is generally 10 to 17 feet (3.0 to 5.2 m) wide, though this is constrained by obstacles such as protruding cables, benches, and stairways, which create "pinch points" at certain locations. The path narrows to 10 feet (3.0 m) at the locations where the main cables descend to the level of the promenade.
Further exacerbating the situation, these "pinch points" are some of the most popular places to take pictures. As a result, in 2016, the NYCDOT announced that it planned to double the promenade’s width.
On the 14th. September 2021, the DOT closed off the inner-most car lane on the Manhattan-bound side with protective barriers and fencing to create a new bike path. Cyclists are now prohibited from the upper pedestrian lane.
Emergency Use of Brooklyn Bridge
While the bridge has always permitted the passage of pedestrians, the promenade facilitates movement when other means of crossing the East River have become unavailable.
During transit strikes by the Transport Workers Union in 1980 and 2005, people commuting to work used the bridge; they were joined by Mayors Ed Koch and Michael Bloomberg, who crossed as a gesture to the affected public.
Pedestrians also walked across the bridge as an alternative to suspended subway services following the 1965, 1977, and 2003 blackouts, and after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
During the 2003 blackouts, many crossing the bridge reported a swaying motion. The higher-than-usual pedestrian load caused this swaying, which was amplified by the tendency of pedestrians to synchronize their footfalls with a sway.
Several engineers expressed concern about how this would affect the bridge, although others noted that the bridge did withstand the event and that the redundancies in its design – the inclusion of the three support systems (suspension system, diagonal stay system, and stiffening truss) – make it probably the best secured bridge against such movements going out of control.
In designing the bridge, John Roebling had stated that the bridge would sag but not fall, even if one of these structural systems were to fail altogether.
Stunts Associated With Brooklyn Bridge
There have been several notable jumpers from the Brooklyn Bridge:
— The first person was Robert Emmet Odlum, brother of women’s rights activist Charlotte Odlum Smith, on the 19th. May 1885. He struck the water at an angle, and died shortly afterwards from internal injuries.
— Steve Brodie supposedly dropped from underneath the bridge in July 1886 and was briefly arrested for it, although there is some doubt about whether he actually jumped.
— Larry Donovan made a slightly higher jump from the railing a month afterward.
Other notable events have taken place on or near the bridge:
— In 1919, Giorgio Pessi piloted what was then one of the world’s largest airplanes, the Caproni Ca.5, under the bridge.
— At 9:00 a.m. on the 19th. May 1977, artist Jack Bashkow climbed one of the towers for ‘Bridging’, which was termed a "media sculpture" by the performance group Art Corporation of America Inc.
Seven artists climbed the largest bridges connected to Manhattan in order to:
"Replace violence and fear
in mass media for one day".
When each of the artists had reached the tops of the bridges, they ignited bright-yellow flares at the same moment, resulting in rush hour traffic disruption, media attention, and the arrest of the climbers, though the charges were later dropped.
Called "The first social-sculpture to use mass-media as art” by conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, the event was on the cover of the New York Post, it received international attention, and received ABC Eyewitness News’ 1977 Best News of the Year award.
John Halpern documented the incident in the film ‘Bridging’ (1977)
— Halpern attempted another "Bridging" "social sculpture" in 1979, when he planted a radio receiver, gunpowder and fireworks in a bucket atop one of the Brooklyn Bridge towers.
The piece was later discovered by police, leading to his arrest for possessing a bomb.
— In 1993, bridge jumper Thierry Devaux illegally performed eight acrobatic bungee jumps above the East River close to the Brooklyn tower.
— On the 1st. October 2011, more than 700 protesters with the Occupy Wall Street movement were arrested while attempting to march across the bridge on the roadway.
Protesters disputed the police account of the event, and claimed that the arrests were the result of being trapped on the bridge by the NYPD. The majority of the arrests were subsequently dismissed.
— On the 22nd. July 2014, the two American flags on the flagpoles atop each tower were found to have been replaced by bleached-white American flags.
Initially, cannabis activism was suspected as a motive, but on the 12th. August 2014, two Berlin artists claimed responsibility for hoisting the two white flags, having switched the original flags with their replicas.
The artists said that the flags were meant to celebrate the beauty of public space and the anniversary of the death of German-born John Roebling, and they denied that it was an anti-American statement.
Brooklyn Bridge as a Suicide Spot
The first person to jump from the bridge with the intention of suicide was Francis McCarey in 1892.
A lesser-known early jumper was James Duffy of County Cavan, Ireland, who on the 15th. April 1895 asked several men to watch him jump from the bridge. Duffy jumped and was not seen again.
Additionally, the cartoonist Otto Eppers jumped and survived in 1910, and was then tried and acquitted for attempted suicide.
The Brooklyn Bridge has since developed a reputation as a suicide bridge due to the number of jumpers who do so intending to kill themselves, though exact statistics are difficult to find.
Crimes and Terrorism Associated With Brooklyn Bridge
— In 1979, police disarmed a stick of dynamite placed under the Brooklyn approach, and an artist in Manhattan was later arrested for the act.
— On the 1st. March 1994, Lebanese-born Rashid Baz opened fire on a van carrying members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish Movement, striking 16-year-old student Ari Halberstam and three others traveling on the bridge.
Halberstam died five days later from his wounds, and Baz was later convicted of murder. He was apparently acting out of revenge for the Hebron massacre of Palestinian Muslims a few days prior to the incident.
After initially classifying the killing 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 subsequently dedicated as the Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp.
— In 2003, truck driver Lyman Faris was sentenced to 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.
Brooklyn Bridge Anniversary Celebrations
— The 50th.-anniversary celebrations on the 24th. May 1933 included a ceremony featuring an airplane show, ships, and fireworks, as well as a banquet.
— During the centennial celebrations on the 24th. May 1983, President Ronald Reagan led a cavalcade of cars across the bridge.
A flotilla of ships visited the harbor, officials held parades, and Grucci Fireworks held a fireworks display that evening.
For the centennial, the Brooklyn Museum exhibited a selection of the original drawings made for the bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge has had an impact on idiomatic American English. For example, 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.
George C. Parker and William McCloundy were two early 20th.-century con men who may have perpetrated this scam successfully on unwitting tourists, although the author of ‘The Brooklyn Bridge: A Cultural History’ wrote:
"No evidence exists that the bridge
has ever been sold to a ‘gullible
However, anyone taken in by fraudsters is hardly likely to publicize the fact.
A popular tradition on Brooklyn Bridge is for couples to inscribe a date and their initials onto a padlock, attach it to the bridge, and throw the key into the water as a sign of their love.
The practice of attaching ‘love locks’ to the bridge is officially illegal in New York City, and in theory the NYPD can give violators a $100 fine.
NYCDOT workers periodically remove the love locks from the bridge at a cost of $100,000 per year.
Brooklyn Bridge in the Media
The bridge is often featured in wide shots of the New York City skyline in television and film, and has been depicted in numerous works of art.
Fictional works have used the Brooklyn Bridge as a setting; for instance, the dedication of a portion of the bridge, and the bridge itself, were key components in the 2001 film Kate & Leopold.
Furthermore, the Brooklyn Bridge has also served as an icon of America, with mentions in numerous songs, books, and poems.
Among the most notable of these works is that of American Modernist poet Hart Crane, who used the Brooklyn Bridge as a central metaphor and organizing structure for his second book of poetry, ‘The Bridge’ (1930).
The Brooklyn Bridge has also been lauded for its architecture. One of the first positive reviews was "The Bridge as a Monument", a Harper’s Weekly piece written by architecture critic Montgomery Schuyler and published a week after the bridge’s opening.
In the piece, Schuyler wrote:
"It so happens that the work which is likely to be
our most durable monument, and to convey some
knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a
work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not
a palace, but a bridge."
Architecture critic Lewis Mumford cited the piece as the impetus for serious architectural criticism in the U.S. He wrote that in the 1920’s the bridge was a source of joy and inspiration in his childhood, and that it was a profound influence in his adolescence.
Later critics regarded the Brooklyn Bridge as a work of art, as opposed to an engineering feat or a means of transport.
Not all critics appreciated the bridge, however. Henry James, writing in the early 20th. century, cited the bridge as an ominous symbol of the city’s transformation into a "steel-souled machine room".
The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is detailed in numerous media sources, including David McCullough’s 1972 book ‘The Great Bridge’, and Ken Burns’s 1981 documentary ‘Brooklyn Bridge’.
It is also described in ‘Seven Wonders of the Industrial World’, a BBC docudrama series with an accompanying book, as well as in ‘Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge’, a biography published in 2017.
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