Today in History: Construction of the Iconic Brooklyn Bridge Begins
Today, 152 years ago, Washington Roebling began the construction of the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening.
The Brooklyn Bridge, which connects Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights, is a well-known, iconic tourist destination. The bridge has been designated a national historic landmark, a New York City Landmark, and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
American Historian David McCullough wrote in detail about the Brooklyn Bridge in his book, The Great Bridge. McCullough noted that proposals for the bridge began as early as 1800 since the only travel between New York and Brooklyn was by ferry. The final plan of a suspension bridge was chosen because it could be built high enough so as not to block off the East River.
John A. Roebling, who designed the bridge, presented an initial proposal in 1867. The bridge was to be longer and taller than any previous suspension bridge and would incorporate roadways and elevated rail tracks. Roebling also planned for a raised promenade that served as a leisurely pathway.
In June 1869, Roebling injured his foot when a ferry pinned it against a piling. Roebling developed a tetanus infection, resulting in his death the following month. John Roebling's son, Washington Roebling, took over his father's role.
Construction began on January 3, 1870; however, some sources say it started on January 2. According to an article in The Sun in 1891, at least two dozen people were killed during the thirteen years it took to build the bridge. The bridge cost around $15.5 million to build, surpassing the original budget of $5 million. This amount has a purchasing power of over $450 million today when factoring in inflation.
Initially, the bridge carried horse-drawn and rail traffic, with a separate walkway for pedestrians and bicycles along the centerline. In 1950, the main roadway began carrying six lanes of automobile traffic and a shared pedestrian and bicycle path. In September 2021, one lane of vehicular traffic was repurposed to construct a two-way protected bike lane along the Brooklyn Bridge.
The NYC Department of Transportation estimated in 2018 that an average of over 116,000 vehicles, 30,000 pedestrians, and 3,000 cyclists travel over the Brooklyn Bridge each day.
photo credit: Flickr