An impressive feat of steel-cutting and steel cable wire, the Brooklyn Bridge officially opened in 1883 as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. The victory of technology and steel that was to become the Brooklyn Bridge was celebrated with fireworks and ships firing cannons as the US President Chester A. Arthur and the city mayor made the inaugural crossing of the bridge.
Here are 10 interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge
- The Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge at the time it was built; it spans a total of 1,814 metres (5,989 ft.) across the East River.
- In 1883, the cost of construction was US$15.5 million. That’s over US$380 billion in today’s money.
- The bridge is bookended by hidden stone caverns under the ramps, which were used as champagne storage. In trying to recoup some of the costs of building, the builders sold these spaces to wine makers. With a constant temperature of 15˚C (60˚F), this was an ideal place to store wine and hold parties. One of the caverns was named ‘The Blue Grotto’ thanks to the statue of the Madonna overlooking the revellers as they partied. The inscription found in the Blue Grotto reads: ‘Who loveth not wine, women, and song, he remaineth a fool his whole life long’.
- The construction of the bridge cost 27 lives.
- A few days after being built, rumours circulated that the Brooklyn Bridge was about to collapse. This caused a stampede that cost a further 12 lives. To publicise his circus and to quieten the rumours, PT Barnum led a parade of 21 circus elephants over the bridge.
- What is now a treasured landmark was then the only land passage connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. That’s why it needs to be so strong; 145,000 vehicles per day cross it.
- Many historic bridges have gone to the wind – but not the Brooklyn Bridge. Even though aerodynamics wasn’t understood or tested at the time of building, the underlying truss structure lent itself to stability in a way that other bridges did not. The bridge and truss system were built to withstand six times the strength necessary.
- When father and son builders the Roeblings both struggled with their health from injuries sustained in construction, Emily Warren Roebling, wife of the young Washington Roebling, stepped in to aid her husband and father-in-law. She learned everything that she needed to about engineering, and thus became the effective Chief of Engineering when her husband became too sick to attend the construction site. She was in charge for 11 of the 14 years of construction.
- After the construction had been completed, it was discovered that the steel cable wire supplier had provided an inferior product that led to the bridge being only four times as strong as necessary. The bridge was reinforced with the addition of 250 cables. This was how the Brooklyn Bridge developed its distinctive diagonal steel cable wires, which turned out to be structurally useless but architecturally beautiful.
- The Brooklyn Bridge has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.
Now and then
The Brooklyn Bridge is a testament to the leaps that technology was taking in the wave of industrial progress at the end of the 19th century. Beholding the steel brilliance of the bridge with its diagonal steel cable wire sends an echo of the wonder of our forebears through our souls. Each time you look upon the steel-cut structure, it is as though you were looking at its beauty for the first time. The bridge represented the wonder of steel and technology, and reminds us what great minds can achieve with strong and robust materials.
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