The Brooklyn Bridge, viewed from Manhattan
|Carries||6 lanes of roadway (cars only)
Elevated trains (until 1944)
Streetcars (until 1950)
Pedestrians and bicycles
|Locale||New York City (Civic Center, Manhattan – Dumbo/Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn)|
|Maintained by||New York City Department of Transportation|
|Total length||5,989 ft (1,825.4 m)|
|Width||85 ft (25.9 m)|
|Height||276.5 ft (84.3 m) above mean high water|
|Longest span||1,595.5 ft (486.3 m)|
|Clearance below||135 ft (41.1 m)|
|Designer||John Augustus Roebling|
|Opened||May 24, 1883|
|Daily traffic||123,781 (2008)|
|Toll||Free both ways|
|NRHP Reference #||66000523|
|Added to NRHP||1966|
|Designated NHL||January 29, 1964|
The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge in New York City and is one of the oldest bridges of either type in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. It has a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed. It was originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and as the East River Bridge, but it was later dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge, a name coming from an earlier January 25, 1867, letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and formally so named by the city government in 1915. Since its opening, it has become an icon of New York City and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.
Although the Brooklyn Bridge is technically a suspension bridge, it uses a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge design. The towers are built of limestone, granite, and Rosendale cement. The limestone was quarried at the Clark Quarry in Essex County, New York. The granite blocks were quarried and shaped on Vinalhaven Island, Maine, under a contract with the Bodwell Granite Company, and delivered from Maine to New York by schooner.
The bridge was built with numerous passageways and compartments in its anchorages. New York City rented out the large vaults under the bridge’s Manhattan anchorage in order to fund the bridge. Opened in 1876, the vaults were used to store wine, as they were always at 60 °F (16 °C). This was called the “Blue Grotto” because of a shrine to the Virgin Mary next to an opening at the entrance. When New York visited one of the cellars about 102 years later, in 1978, it discovered, on the wall, a “fading inscription” reading: “Who loveth not wine, women and song, he remaineth a fool his whole life long.”
Construction of the bridge began in 1869. The bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, who had previously designed and constructed shorter suspension bridges, such as Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, the Waco Suspension Bridge and the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridgebetween Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky. While conducting surveys for the bridge project, Roebling sustained a crush injury to his foot when a ferry pinned it against a piling. After amputation of his crushed toes he developed a tetanus infection which left him incapacitated and soon resulted in his death in 1869, not long after he had placed his 32-year-old son Washington Roebling in charge of the project.
The bridge’s two towers were built by floating two caissons, giant upside-down boxes made of southern yellow pine, in the span of the East River, and then beginning to build the stone towers on top of them until they sank to the bottom of the river. Compressed air was pumped into the caissons, and workers entered the space to dig the sediment, until the caissons sank to the bedrock. The whole weight of the bridge still sits upon a 15-foot thickness of southern yellow pine wood under the sediment.
Many workers became sick with the bends in this work. This condition was unknown at the time, and was first called “caisson disease” by the project physician Andrew Smith. Washington Roebling also suffered a paralyzing injury as a result of decompression sickness shortly after ground was broken for the Brooklyn tower foundation on January 3, 1870. Roebling’s debilitating condition left him unable to physically supervise the construction firsthand.
As Chief Engineer, Roebling supervised the entire project from his apartment with a view of the work, designing and redesigning caissons and other equipment. He was aided by his wife Emily Warren Roeblingwho provided the critical written link between her husband and the engineers on site. Under her husband’s guidance, Emily studied higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strengths of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction. She spent the next 11 years assisting Washington Roebling, helping to supervise the bridge’s construction. When iron probes underneath the caisson for the Manhattan tower found the bedrock to be even deeper than expected, Roebling halted construction due to the increased risk of decompression sickness. He later deemed the aggregate overlying the bedrock 30 feet (9 m) below it to be firm enough to support the tower base, and construction continued.
The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is detailed in the 1972 book The Great Bridge by David McCullough and Brooklyn Bridge (1981), the first PBS documentary film by Ken Burns. Burns drew heavily on McCullough’s book for the film and used him as narrator. It is also described in Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, a BBC docudrama series with accompanying book.
The bridge—originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and as the East River Bridge— was opened for use on May 24, 1883. The opening ceremony was attended by several thousand people and many ships were present in the East Bay for the occasion. President Chester A. Arthur and Mayor Franklin Edson crossed the bridge to celebratory cannon fire and were greeted by Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low when they reached the Brooklyn-side tower. Arthur shook hands with Washington Roebling at the latter’s home, after the ceremony. Roebling was unable to attend the ceremony (and in fact rarely visited the site again), but held a celebratory banquet at his house on the day of the bridge opening. Further festivity included the performance of a band, gunfire from ships, and a fireworks display.
On that first day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed what was then the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Emily Warren Roebling was the first to cross the bridge. The bridge’s main span over the East River is 1,595 feet 6 inches (486.3 m). The bridge cost US$15.5 million in 1883 dollars (about US$381,589,000 in today’s dollars) to build and an estimated 27 people died during its construction.
On May 30, 1883, six days after the opening, a rumor that the bridge was going to collapse caused a stampede, which was responsible for at least twelve people being crushed and killed. On May 17, 1884, P. T. Barnum helped to squelch doubts about the bridge’s stability—while publicizing his famous circus—when one of his most famous attractions, Jumbo, led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge.
At the time it opened, and for several years, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world—50% longer than any previously built—and it has become a treasured landmark. Since the 1980s, it has been floodlit at night to highlight its architectural features. The architectural style is neo-Gothic, with characteristic pointed arches above the passageways through the stone towers. The paint scheme of the bridge is “Brooklyn Bridge Tan” and “Silver”, although it has been argued that the original paint was “Rawlins Red“.
At the time the bridge was built, the aerodynamics of bridge building had not been worked out. Bridges were not tested in wind tunnels until the 1950s, well after the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie) in 1940. It is therefore fortunate that the open truss structure supporting the deck is by its nature less subject to aerodynamic problems. Roebling designed a bridge and truss system that was six times as strong as he thought it needed to be. Because of this, the Brooklyn Bridge is still standing when many of the bridges built around the same time have vanished into history and been replaced. This is also in spite of the substitution of inferior quality wire in the cabling supplied by the contractor J. Lloyd Haigh—by the time it was discovered, it was too late to replace the cabling that had already been constructed. Roebling determined that the poorer wire would leave the bridge four rather than six times as strong as necessary, so it was eventually allowed to stand, with the addition of 250 cables. Diagonal cables were installed from the towers to the deck, intended to stiffen the bridge. They turned out to be unnecessary, but were kept for their distinctive beauty.
After the collapse in 2007 of the I-35W highway bridge in the city of Minneapolis, increased public attention has been brought to bear on the condition of bridges across the US, and it has been reported that the Brooklyn Bridge approach ramps received a rating of “poor” at its last inspection. According to a NYC Department of Transportation spokesman, it wasn’t necessarily dangerous in the state it was then in, but a poor rating implied a renovation. A US$508 million project (equivalent to US$552 million in 2015) to renovate the approaches began in 2010, with the full bridge renovation beginning in spring 2011, and was originally scheduled to run until 2014, but project completion was later delayed to April 2015.
As part of this project, two approach ramps were widened from one lane to two by re-striping a new prefabricated ramp; clearance over the eastbound Interstate 278 at York Street, on the double-deck Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, was increased; and seismic retrofitting, replacement of rusted railings and safety barriers, and road surface replacements were performed. Due to the nature of the work, detours were necessitated for four years.
In August 2016, after the renovation of the bridge had already been completed, the New York City Department of Transportation announced that it would conduct a seven-month, US$370,000 study to verify if the bridge could support a heavier upper deck that consisted of an expanded bicycle and pedestrian path. As of 2016, about 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 bikers use the pathway on an average weekday.