The idea of constructing a bridge between the cities of New York and Brooklyn was conceived in the beginning of the nineteenth century. As early as 1802, a petition to the New York State Legislature proposed constructing a bridge across the East River. Despite its name, the East River is a tidal estuary with turbulent water conditions and was one of the busiest waterways in the world. Crossing the river necessitated a long span with enough clearance for ships to pass below. The New York State Legislature chartered the New York Bridge Company to build a bridge across the East River in 1867 and John A. Roebling was selected as the chief engineer.
John A. Roebling was a pioneer in the manufacturing of wire rope cables and previously designed and constructed suspension bridges in Pittsburgh, Niagara Falls, Cincinnati, and Waco, Texas. While conducting survey work for the Brooklyn Tower, Roebling's foot became pinned against a dock by a ferry, and he died of tetanus a few weeks later, and never lived to see his dream become a reality. He was succeeded as chief engineer by his son Washington A. Roebling.
Because of the enormous challenges faced during its construction, the Brooklyn Bridge took over 13 years to complete. Construction began on January 3, 1870. One of the difficulties involved the use of pneumatic caissons to construct the foundations for the towers. Inside the caissons, air pressure was used to keep water out of a bottomless clam shell-shaped structure used by workers to excavate the river bottom. Men used shovels, picks, and later blasting to dig out the sand and rocks below and the caissons gradually descended towards the river bottom as granite stones were added to form the towers above. At the time, little was known about decompression sickness. Many workers became stricken with the bends, including engineer Washington A. Roebling, who spent much of his time inspecting construction activities on-site.
Unable to visit the project site because of his illness, Washington Roebling observed construction of the bridge through a telescope from his house in Brooklyn Heights. His wife Emily Roebling, who trained herself in higher mathematics and bridge engineering principles, took Washington's daily instructions to the bridge, gave orders, and made inspections. As the bridge neared completion and she assumed more and more responsibilities, many people thought that Emily was the chief engineer.
For several years, the bridge's 276 ½-foot (84 m) high Neo-Gothic granite towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere and stood high above New York's tallest skyscrapers. John A. Roebling intended the bridge's towers and their prominent arches to serve as great monuments to the adjoining cities of New York and Brooklyn.
Roebling's open truss design for the deck allowed wind to pass through, long before the aerodynamics of bridge building were understood. When it was discovered that inferior quality wire had been substituted by the contractor—at a time too late to replace the cables—Roebling determined that the bridge would be four instead of six times stronger than he through it needed to be, and construction was allowed to proceed. The cable stays (diagonal cables running down from the towers) were intended to stiffen the bridge and later found to be unnecessary but were kept for the architectural beauty.
One of the bridge's most popular features is its pedestrian walkway. Roebling included a walkway in the bridge's original design and deliberately placed it above the roadway. He felt that such a promenade would be "of incalculable value in a crowded commercial city." Today, thousands of pedestrians and bicycles use the promenade each day, which affords excellent views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
The official opening of the bridge occurred on May 24, 1883. President Chester Arthur led a group of dignitaries across the bridge and over 150,000 people crossed the bridge on its opening day. Emily Roebling was the first person to ride across the bridge and carried a rooster as a symbol of victory. Schools and businesses in New York and Brooklyn closed for the day's festivities, which featured military bands and cannon salutes and concluded with an hour-long fireworks display. President Arthur, Governor Grover Cleveland, and Mayor Abram Hewitt visited the Roeblings at their Brooklyn Heights home after the ceremonies to pay their respects.
Between 1948-1954, the Brooklyn Bridge was reconstructed by the New York City Department of Public Works which included the removal of trolley tracks and the strengthening of the inner and outer trusses. The reconstruction effort was led by David B. Steinman, who served as president of the ASCE Met Section in 1946-1947.
The Brooklyn Bridge was designated as a National Civil Engineering Landmark by ASCE in 1972. In that same year, The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge, a lengthy account of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge by renowned author David McCullough, was first published.
Brooklyn Bridge Centennial Anniversary
1983 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. This structure not only stands as a monument to the Roebling Family, its designers and builders, but also to the civil engineering profession. Throughout the year, much recognition was given to this amazing structure. The American Society of Civil Engineers and the ASCE Metropolitan Section were proud to be part of the centennial celebration.
ONE OF NEW YORK CITY'S MOST FAMOUS CIVIL ENGINEERING ACHIEVEMENTS, THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, IS CELEBRATING ITS 100TH ANNIVERSARY ON MAY 24, 1983. IN TRIBUTE TO THIS OUTSTANDING LANDMARK AND IN CELEBRATION OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF CIVIL ENGINEERS TO THE LANDSCAPE OF OUR CITY, THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS IS SPONSORING A MARCH FROM CITY HALL TO THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE ON MAY 20TH.
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS WAS FOUNDED IN NEW YORK IN 1852 AND ITS MEMBERS CONTINUE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CITY'S ECONOMIC VITALITY THROUGH THEIR MANY AND VARIED MUNICIPAL PROJECTS.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, EDWARD I. KOCH, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, DO HEREBY PROCLAIM MAY 20, 1983 AS "CIVIL ENGINEERING DAY" IN NEW YORK CITY, IN RECOGNITION OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF NEW YORK CITY’S ENGINEERING COMMUNITY.
Newcomen Society Tribute
Mr. Wiedeman spoke of the proud heritage of the civil engineering profession as exemplified by the Roebling Family. It was their courage and perseverance, according to Mr. Wiedeman, that made the Brooklyn Bridge a reality. Mr. Wiedemen then identified the problem of our decaying infrastructure as the challenge that we must confront today. He advised that we cannot permit the great work of the Roeblings and that of other civil engineers to continue to fall into dangerous disrepair. In concluding, he warned that, "…unless we change our ways—we will be leaving to the next generation a capital plant that is in worse condition than the one we inherited. We need our Brooklyn Bridges too much to let this happen."
New York State Governor Mario Cuomo sent the following letter to President Wiedeman:
It gives me great pleasure to send greetings to all those in attendance at the Annual Dinner of the Newcomen Society as it honors the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Brooklyn Bridge Smithsonian Exhibit
The Brooklyn Bridge exhibit was coordinated by Dr. John A. Tesoro, director of data processing at Gibbs and Hill, and contained copies of some of the photographs, lithographs, and drawings from the Smithsonian exhibit which was on tour throughout the country. Some of these images were computer generated by Dr. Tesoro's department. In addition, after a short description of the exhibit's preparation by Dr. Tesoro, ASCE Met Section President-Elect Thomas Mulhern spoke briefly in applauding the efforts made in organizing the exhibit. Wine and cheeses were served while all attendees enjoyed viewing the tribute to one of our greatest landmark structures.
Brooklyn Bridge 125th Anniversary
In May 2008, New York City commemorated the 125th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge with a spectacular five-day birthday celebration featuring fireworks, light shows, musical and dance performances, a Brooklyn Bridge film series, walking tours, a series of lectures and readings, a bicycle "Tour de Brooklyn," the opening of a new pedestrian connection between the Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO, and a telectroscope connection to London, England.
Each of the information booths displayed key facts about the Brooklyn Bridge and showed presentations on laptops about the techniques used during construction. Met Section volunteers also distributed thousands of free informational brochures prepared by ASCE about the bridge's design and construction and handed out special newspapers for the event celebration and ceremonial "Deed to the Brooklyn Bridge" certificates signed by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Children of all ages were particularly drawn to the information tents and the ASCE Met Section members helped to describe the basic engineering principals behind bridge building and careers in the civil engineering field. New Yorkers that lived or worked near the Brooklyn Bridge and took it for granted were fascinated to learn about how the bridge was constructed and the interesting story behind the Roebling family.
|Civil Engineering Landmarks|
|Early Years of the Section|
|OPAL/OCEA Award Winners|
|Section Past Presidents|
|Society Award Recipients|
|Alexander L. Holley Memorial|
|ASCE Founders' Plaque|
|Bear Mountain Bridge|
|Benjamin Wright Gravesite|
|Croton Water Supply System|
|Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge|
|Empire State Building|
|First New York City Subway|
|Former ASCE Headquarters|
|George Washington Bridge|
|Grand Central Terminal|
|Hudson & Manhattan Tunnel|
|O.H. Ammann Memorial Plaque|
|Statue of Liberty|
|ASCE National Website|