Few people know that New York’s hardest winters occurred in the nineteenth century. The New Yorkers who lived at that time frequently woke up to find the East River frozen over. And – after the wonder and amazement had subsided – all that remained was total confusion because only ferries linked New York and Brooklyn. It may have been for this reason that it was decided to build the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the greatest engineering feats accomplished up to that time.
John A. Roebling, an engineer of German origin and an expert in the design of suspension bridges, was the creative force behind the bridge. Generally, a suspension bridge is a type of bridge in which the deck, which supports the load on the bridge, is hung from vertically-suspended cables. The cables of the Brooklyn Bridge were the first to be made of steel.
The plans were met with scepticism. There were no precedents for such an undertaking and the bridge’s enormous dimensions led to the belief that it would never be completed. Once the uncertainties had been overcome, however, work was begun in 1869.
It was beset with problems from the beginning. Roebling died just a few months after work got under way, and his son, Washington Roebling, who took over the management of the project, was also bedridden by illness for the remaining 11 years of work. His wife, Emily Warren Roebling, took his place in turn and thereby became famous as the woman who brought the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge to its conclusion.
After its inauguration in 1883, the bridge became the first land-link between New York and Brooklyn. At 1825 metres long, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, while its twin 85-metre-high neo-gothic granite towers made it the tallest structure in New York at that time.
Tragedy struck once more shortly after its opening, however, when a woman got her heel stuck in the surface in the pedestrian area and her screams led others to believe the bridge was on the point of collapse: panic followed, and twelve people were crushed to death in the ensuing stampede.
The incident provoked serious concerns regarding the bridge’s solidity, but a year later, after a memorable advertising campaign, P.T. Barnum, the inventor of the modern circus, crossed the bridge with his legendary elephant Jumbo and twenty others, and from then on nobody worried about the bridge’s safety any more.
Nowadays the bridge is crossed by about 120,000 vehicles and 4,000 pedestrians each day, and is one of New York’s most striking and iconic landmarks of New York.
New York, August 2018