Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Spanning almost 1600 feet, it connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, in the state of New York. Residents originally referred to it as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and even the East River Bridge. In 1867, a letter to the editor of a local newspaper called it the Brooklyn Bridge and the name stuck. Eventually, in 1915, the city government made the name official and in 1964, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Construction

John Roebling, a German immigrant, created the original design for the bridge. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish his work. After an injury to his foot and an eventual amputation, he died from complications due to a tetanus infection. His son, Washington Roebling was left in charge and with the help of his wife, Emily, he continued on the work his father started. A little over thirteen years after the work began, the bridge was completed. Estimates suggest the total monetary cost of the bridge came in around $15.5 million dollars. It also cost the lives of 27 people. Still, the opening celebration was attended by thousands of people; some walked across that day while others took in the view from the ships located nearby.

  • The Story of John Roebling: Engines of Our Ingenuity presents a transcription of an episode focused on Roebling’s work on the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge: The Library of Congress provides information about Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge with a variety of photos and links to other historical documents and photos.
  • East River Bridge Plan of One Tower: The National Archives feature a drawing, by Roebling, of one portion of the bridge. It includes details about the construction project.
  • The Importance of Emily Roebling: The BBC discusses the unique relationship between Emily Roebling and her husband. She played a part in the construction and overall project.
  • Parabolas in Suspension Bridges: With a diagram of a bridge with all the parts labeled, this site gives a general history of the bridge and demonstrates how a suspension bridge works.
Pedestrian and Vehicular Access to the Bridge

Everything from trolleys to motor cars (and even 21 elephants in 1884) have made their way across the Brooklyn Bridge. At one point, an elevated train traveled through two of the traffic lanes. Today, pedestrians and bicyclists often make their way across the bridge via a separate walkway in the center of the bridge. On either side, there are three lanes available for vehicles that meet certain height and weight requirements.

Notable Events

Robert Odlum jumped to his death on May 14, 1885. While Odlum was the first, he certainly was not the last. In 1993, the bridge’s first bungee jumper made thirteen successful attempts, all of which were illegal. A shooting in 1994 claimed the life of a 16 year old student while just less than a decade later, a plot to blow up the bridge was uncovered. A Cold War Bunker, previously hidden, was discovered in 2006. Huge celebrations were held on both the 100th and 125th anniversary of the bridge’s completion. As recently as 2011, 700 protesters were arrested while marching across the bridge in support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Cultural Significance

The Brooklyn Bridge is more than just a cultural icon. At the time, it was a symbol of optimism for the people of New York and the United States. Even today, people still make light of someone gullible by offering to sell them the bridge. It has been featured in numerous texts, most notably Hart Crane’s The Bridge (a collection of poetry). The Brooklyn Bridge is no stranger to the film industry either. Over 15 movies used it as a backdrop for at least one scene.