On June 22, 2003, the Brooklyn Arts Council, Inc. (BAC) and The Daily News organized the Williamsburg Bridge 100th Birthday Celebration at Continental Army Plaza Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The day-long family-oriented celebration marked the centennial of a beloved city landmark and featured engineers and historians leading walking tours of the bridge, a procession across the bridge with the original flag flown off the last cable run in 1902, a bridge photo exhibit highlighting construction laborers, music and food inspired by the neighborhood's diverse ethnicity, and even a flatbed-size birthday cake topped with a sugar sculpture of the Bridge.
The ceremonies were attended by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, as well as the only known living relative of Leffert L. Buck, the original bridge designer.
As part of the celebration, the ASCE Met Section sponsored educational and fun activities for kids, related to bridge design and construction. Younger children were attracted to the bridge drawing table, were they created bridge designs using crayons. Another area was dedicated to the construction of paper "bridges". Using flat and folded sheets, engineers demonstrated how to obtain stronger structures by folding and therefore stiffening the paper sheets. The "bridges" were loaded with pennies until they collapsed. Then, by building a bridge with an accordion-folded paper glued to a flat sheet of paper, engineers explained how the orthotropic deck on the Williamsburg Bridge works.
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When it was completed and opened in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge, with a 1,600-foot main span, was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and boasted the world's first all-steel towers. One of the last major bridges designed for horse and carriage; today the bridge carries an estimated 140,000 motorists and 92,000 subway riders daily. In 1988 the New York City Department of Transportation NYCDOT undertook major rehabilitation work, which is still ongoing.
The most successful activity, judging by size of the young crowds it attracted, was the construction of a suspension bridge model, assembled using two chains, suspenders made of paper clips, wooden dowels acting as floorbeams and a cardboard "deck", and suspended over the back of two chairs. During the endlessly repeated "construction stage" and "load testing phase" engineers explained to the children, in easy terms, what are the functions of the various parts of the bridge, the concept of "tension" and "compression" forces, and related the model to the actual bridge. A display board including photographs and sketches of the bridge attracted a lot of interest from older children and adults alike.
Coordinator Maria Grazia Bruschi worked closely with BAC's folklorist and Williamsburg Bridge 100th Birthday Project Director Kay Turner to organize this activity. The Met Section is grateful to Ms. Turner for the opportunity to join in the celebrations, and for her support and invaluable help in setting up the Children's Activity Tent.
Special thanks go to all the ASCE volunteers who made that event a great success, and in particular to Steve Schroeder, Helena Tam, Karen Armfield, Erik Metzger, Jerry Sova, Jamie Mack, Storm Gewirtz, Bonnie Jiang, Patricia Decker and Angela Kwan.