The Brooklyn Bridge is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of architecture in New York. It was the first bridge to cross the East River and connect the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Easily the most historic and fascinating of the five major bridges connecting the island of Manhattan to other shores, the Brooklyn Bridge is a synthesis of art and engineering. Even before it opened, the Brooklyn Bridge became a symbol of the greatness of New York and American ingenuity. It has been the inspiration for poets and artists.
On the 100th anniversary of the bridge’s completion the New York Times stated in it’s May 24, 1983 edition:
“The bridge’s Gothic towers of granite were New York’s first skyscrapers, for in 1883 they stood high above everything else on the skyline; its roadway provided a spectacular panorama of the city that could be obtained nowhere else. To see the city and the river from the Brooklyn Bridge was like flying…”
The bridge has an elevated wide wood-plank pedestrian walkway—marked with a line down the center to divide it into walking and biking lanes—to both separate you from the traffic and raise you to an ideal height for viewing both the Manhattan Skyline and Brooklyn Heights. Walking the bridge, especially from Brooklyn to Manhattan, is one of the best walks in New York City. The Brooklyn Bridge design continues to serve as inspiration for bridges being built today. One bridge that in many ways mirrors the impact that the Brooklyn Bridge had on New York City was completed 54 years later and is located on the other side of the continent linking San Francisco and Marin—the Golden Gate Bridge. The cable contractor for the Golden Gate Bridge was John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. Trenton & Roebling, New Jersey.
When the weather is nice you’ll find that many people walk or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge to go to work. It takes about 20 to 40 minutes to cross the span depending on how many stops you make to enjoy the view. There are benches to sit and rest along the way.
Two good options for viewing the Brooklyn Bridge if you are visiting New York would be to take a cruise that passes under the bridge (where I shot the sunset picture above) or do what I did later and hop-off the Brooklyn Loop Tour at the New York Marriott @ Brooklyn Bridge stop and walk across the bridge back to Manhattan. Another option would be the Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO Neighborhood Tour.
Brooklyn Bridge Facts
The Brooklyn Bridge measures 6,016 feet, including approaches. The river span passes the tower arches at an elevation of 119 feet, gradually rising to 135 feet above the East River at mid-span to allow the passage of tall ships. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge with two granite block Gothic inspired towers to support the cables. At the time of its construction these two towers were the tallest structures in New York.
Brooklyn Bridge History and Construction
John Roebling introduced the use of steel, rather than iron, for the four main support cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. Up till then steel had been used for construction of railroads but it had not yet been used for structures such as bridges. Three members of the Roebling family were chiefly responsible for the design and construction, even the very existence of the Brooklyn Bridge — John Roebling, his son Washington Roebling and Washington’s wife Emily.
John A. Roebling, bridge designer and owner of a wire-rope company, first proposed building a suspension bridge over the east river in 1855.”…it is Roebling’s 1840 patent for the in-situ spinning of wire rope that has to be recognized as one of the decisive breakthroughs in modern suspension bridge technology. This patent brought John Roebling a commission to build a cable-suspended, wooden aqueduct over the Allegheny River in 1845. Roebling built a number of such aqueducts before receiving two major bridge commissions in his mid-career: his 821-foot-span Niagara rail bridge of 1841-55 and his 1,000-foot span Cincinnati Bridge of 1856-67; both of which were prototypes for the 1,600 foot Brooklyn Bridge, whose construction ran through two generations of Roeblings…
— Kenneth Frampton and Yukio Futagawa. Modern Architecture 1851-1945. p31.
Although some doubted there was a need for a bridge at all, Roebling insisted that projected growth in the then separate cities of New York and Brooklyn would necessitate the construction of additional bridges. He even went so far as to specifically suggest future construction of the Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges.
By 1869 all approvals and financing had been secured. The first of many disasters associated with the Brooklyn Bridge occurred when John Roebling’s foot was crushed on a pier by an incoming ferry as he was examining locations for a tower site.
Roebling later died of tetanus, also known as lockjaw (some say it was gangrene), as a result of his injury. John Roebling’s son and Civil War hero, Washington A. Roebling, took over as chief engineer following his fathers death. Dynamite was used for the first time in bridge construction while sinking caissons—large, airtight cylinders where workers labored to clear away silt under the riverbed—to support the towers. The foundations took three years to construct and work in the caissons was both miserable and dangerous. Fires, explosions and caisson disease (similar to the bends) took the lives of 20 men and left Washington Roebling paralyzed.
Roebling directed the completion of the bridge from his home in Brooklyn with the assistance of his wife. Emily Roebling studied higher mathematics and bridge engineering, making daily visits to the bridge to oversee her husband’s engineers and builders. At the time of the completion of the bridge, many considered Emily Roebling to be the Chief Engineer and she was the first to walk across it at its opening. The Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 23, 1883. The $15.1 million cost of construction was more than twice the original estimate of $7 million.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Twenty-five years in the making, Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 1 and Fulton Ferry Landing is the first major park in Brooklyn since Prospect Park was built 135 years earlier. The completed park will stretch 1.3 miles along the East River and will include Piers 1 through 6 and incorporate the Empire-Fulton Ferry Park and Main Street City Park between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and the Con-Ed Lot (John Street Site) north of the Manhattan Bridge. Pier 1 (the only pier built on landfill) and part of Pier 6 opened in the spring of 2010. Lawns, coves, playgrounds, a salvaged granite seating area, water park and restored habitats such as a salt marsh provide a setting for diverse activities from bike riding and kayaking to food festivals and wedding photography.