The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by John Augustus Roebling. Though Roebling was an experienced bridge-builder, this was to be his most ambitious project yet. It was the single largest bridge of its kind, and in order to be successfully built, it actually had to be put together from the top down – the uppermost, visible part of the bridge was supported by huge floating pine boxes (“caissons”) under the surface of the river. Roebling initially joined the massive construction crew himself – yet, early in the process, he was injured inside one of the caissons, and was unable to work on the bridge.
This is where things get interesting. Roebling’s wife, Emily, took over a huge part of his role. Working with her husband, she learned advanced mathematics and principles of engineering in order to solve problems and guide the bridge through to completion, making it their joint achievement – which they shared with the tireless and fearless men who actually put it together, stone by stone.
Though it’s strange to realize this now, but many people believed the Brooklyn Bridge was doomed to fail. Suspension bridges of its kind had collapsed before, and this was bigger and heavier than anything that had been attempted before. Roebling had put in special safeguards of his own design to make it more stable – yet these were new, and untested. Even after the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, many people were afraid to walk on it.
Yet others came to see it – just as people still come to see it to this day. The Bridge gained a reputation as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” and caused a huge influx of tourism and money to the city.
It was also a firm connection between Manhattan and Brooklyn, which were two separate cities at the time of its construction. The new flow of labor, ideas, and people between the two boroughs directly led to Brooklyn’s officially becoming part of NYC. Brooklyn is so indispensable to New York’s economy and reputation now, it’s hard to imagine the city without it. Yet without Roebling’s vision and daring, it might never have happened.
Roebling working with the crew, Emily working with Roebling, and Brooklyn working with New York: The Brooklyn Bridge, an awe-inspiring sight, becomes even more meaningful when we realize it’s an enduring testimony to the power of connection and collaboration to forge a better world.