Today In History: The Brooklyn Bridge Opens To The Public

Today In History |


Today, the Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public for the very first time in 1883. It took fourteen years to construct, and the project claimed the lives of 27 people. It remains one of the enduring architectural landmarks of New York City.

Thousands of New Yorkers attended the dedication ceremony, presided over by president Chester A. Arthur and New York governor Grover Cleveland.

The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by John A. Roebling. At the time of its opening, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world. Roebling was German by birth, and immigrated to Pennsylvania when he was 25. After a failed attempt at farming, he moved to Harrisburg to work as a civil engineer and then established a wire-cable factory.


Roebling was a pioneer suspension bridge designer. Suspension bridges were already in use, but were known for failing under stress. They were frail, and could collapse if they bore too much weight or if the wind blew too fiercely.

Roebling introduced the idea of a web truss added to either side of the bridge's roadway, to stabilize it. He implemented this idea in the Niagara Gorge and Ohio River bridges. New York State was impressed enough to accept his design for the Brooklyn Bridge. It was to span 1,595 feet. It would be the first suspension bridge ever built out of steel.

Unfortunatley, Roebling died shortly before construction on the bridge began in 1869. While taking compass readings across the East River, a boat smashed into his foot and destroyed his toes. Tetanus killed him three weeks later.

His son, Washington A. Roebling, took command. The Brooklyn Bridge's construction was highly dangerous. More than a hundred workers were stricken with compression sickness (also called the bends) from laying granite foundations underwater. Many more workers died from fires and collapses.

By 1883, major construction on the Bridge was finished. Emily Roebling enjoyed the first ride over the bridge, holding a rooster in her lap. The rooster was then a symbol of victory.

Over the course of the next day, 250,000 people walked the bridge, on a pedestrian roadway that Roebling built above the roadway.

The Brooklyn Bridge was named "the eighth wonder of the world" in the press. It directly led to Brooklyn being incorporated into New York City, along with Staten Island and a few outlying farm towns.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.