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August 21, 2017

Brooklyn Bridge | First-ever Steel-Wire Suspension Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

One of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge was the first-ever steel-wire suspension bridge

Built between 1870 and 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge links Brooklyn and Manhattan by spanning the East River in New York City. Designed by a German immigrant, John Augustus Roebling, it was his son, Washington Roebling, and daughter-inlaw, Emily, who actually oversaw most of the construction after John’s unexpected death just months before building commenced.

The bridge consists of two main elements. Firstly, there are the two anchorages that are positioned either side of the river and between them are two towers (also known as piers) which stand some 84 meters (277 feet) high. Consisting of limestone, granite and cement, the towers – designed in a neo-Gothic architectural style – stand on concrete foundations that run 13.4 meters (44 feet) and 23.8 meters (78 feet) deep on the Brooklyn and Manhattan sides, respectively.

Brooklyn Bridge diagram

Secondly, the bridge itself is constructed from iron and steel-wire cables, with a layer of  tarmac on the main deck. At 26 meters (85 feet) wide and 1,825 meters (5,989 feet) long, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when first built and held the record for over 20 years. Roebling’s design includes many redundancies, such as a diagonal stay system between cables and stiffening trusses, which make the bridge very safe; indeed, even if one of the main support systems were to fail altogether the bridge would sag, rather than completely collapse. More unusually, the bridge also has its own nuclear fall-out shelter built into one anchorage. Having fallen out of use and been forgotten, the shelter was rediscovered in 2006, along with provisions from the Cold War era.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, since the Eighties the bridge has been  flood lit at night to highlight its distinct architectural features. Initially intended to carry motor vehicles, trains, street cars, bicycles and pedestrians, since the Fifties, the bridge has only taken cars, cyclists and foot traffic. Over 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross it every day.

Cultural Impact

Since its completion, the Brooklyn Bridge has inspired many an artist and poet. The modernist American poet Hart Crane, for example, famously published the ode To Brooklyn Bridge in 1930. Regarded as a wonder of its age, people flocked to see the structure’s opening with a spectacular fi reworks display and regatta in 1883 – a celebration which was repeated on its 100th anniversary. Many people have jumped off the bridge as publicity stunts or suicide attempts, while others have got married on it. In 1919 the Caproni heavy bomber, which was then the world’s largest aeroplane, was fl own under the deck, while in 2003 it was the intended target of an Al-Qaeda terrorist plot. The Brooklyn Bridge has also frequently appeared in Hollywood movies, such as I Am Legend, The Dark Knight Rises and Godzilla; most recently the bridge featured in The Great Gatsby.

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