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Tower Bridge
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Vital Statistics:
Location: London, England
Completion Date: 1894
Length: 880 feet
Type: Movable (bascule), suspension
Purpose: Roadway, pedestrian
Materials: Steel, masonry
Longest Single Span: 200 feet
Engineer(s): Sir Horace Jones, Sir John Wolfe-Barry

By the end of the 19th century, the city of London had outgrown itself. Thousands of cars and pedestrians relied on a single bridge -- the London Bridge -- to travel in and out of the capital city each day. The traffic jams were unbearable. So it was with great anticipation that Londoners awaited the completion of a new bridge across the Thames, the Tower Bridge, designed by Sir Horace Jones and engineered by Sir John Wolfe-Barry.

Tower Bridge
Click photo
for larger image.

The new bridge would have two towers that would rise 200 feet above the Thames. A pair of glass-covered walkways would stretch between the two towers for pedestrians. Steam engines would raise and lower the bascules, or movable roadways, in less than two minutes to allow boats to pass. Londoners were thrilled.

Once the bridge was completed in 1894, however, the public was appalled with the results. Jones' original design was simple and had a medieval style. But Jones died in 1887, and Barry added his own artistic touch. When the Tower Bridge opened to traffic in 1894, the journal The Builder cursed the bridge, calling it "the most monstrous and preposterous architectural sham that we have ever known." But public opinion mellowed over time, and today, the Tower Bridge is one of London's best loved landmarks.

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
Tower Bridge 880'

Fast Facts:
  • The Tower Bridge is the only movable bridge of the 29 bridges on the Thames River.
  • When the bridge opened to river traffic in 1894, it was raised and lowered 1,000 times per year. Today, few ships actually travel on the Thames, so the bridge opens less than 100 times per year.
  • In 1952, a London bus had to leap from one bascule to the other when the bridge began to rise with the bus still on it. Luckily, no one was injured.

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