Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
BUILDING BIG LogoImage with 5 links within the image.
Bridge
BUILDING BIG Home Page BUILDING BIG Site Map BUILDING BIG Labs BUILDING BIG Databank BUILDING BIG Glossary
Bridges
Domes
Skyscrapers
Dams
Tunnels
Buy the DVD
_   Brooklyn Bridge
Choose another wonder

Brooklyn Bridge
Click photo
for larger image.
Vital Statistics:
Location: Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, USA
Completion Date: 1883
Cost: $18 million
Length: 3,460 feet
Type: Suspension
Purpose: Roadway
Materials: Steel, granite
Longest Single Span: 1,595 feet
Engineer(s): John A. Roebling, Washington A. Roebling

Considered a brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge was a bridge of many firsts. It was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire. It was the first bridge to use explosives in a dangerous underwater device called a caisson. At the time it was built, the 3,460-foot Brooklyn Bridge was also crowned the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Brooklyn Bridge
Click photo
for larger image.

But the Brooklyn Bridge was plagued with its share of problems. Before construction even began, the bridge's chief engineer, John A. Roebling, died from tetanus. The project was taken over and seen to its completion by his son, Washington Roebling. Three years later, Roebling developed a crippling illness called caisson's disease, known today as "the bends." Bedridden but determined to stay in charge, Roebling used a telescope to keep watch over the bridge's progress. He dictated instructions to his wife, Emily, who passed on his orders to the workers. During this time, an unexpected blast wrecked one caisson, a fire damaged another, and a cable snapped from its anchorage and crashed into the river.

Despite these problems, construction continued at a feverish pace. By 1883, 14 years after it began, Roebling successfully guided the completion of one of the most famous bridges in the world -- without ever leaving his apartment.

Here's how this bridge stacks up against some of the longest-spanning bridges in the world. (total length, in feet)
Chart showing the relative size of the longest bridges in the world
Brooklyn Bridge 3,460'

Fast Facts:
  • Although he was physically able to leave his apartment, Washington Roebling refused to attend the opening celebration honoring his remarkable achievement.
  • The bridge opened to the public on May 24, 1883, at 2:00 p.m. A total of 150,300 people crossed the bridge on opening day. Each person was charged one cent to cross.
  • The bridge opened to vehicles on May 24, 1883, at 5:00 p.m. A total of 1,800 vehicles crossed on the first day. Vehicles were charged five cents to cross.
  • Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is the second busiest bridge in New York City. One hundred forty-four thousand vehicles cross the bridge every day.

  _
_