Interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge

brooklyn bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge in New York City and is one of the oldest bridges of either type in the United States.

It has a main span of 486.3 meters (1,595.5 feet), and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed.

It connects two great New York City boroughs: Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, who had previously designed and constructed shorter suspension bridges, such as Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, and the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky.

It took over 600 workers to transform  6,114 tonnes (6,740 US tons) of material into the iconic wonder of the Industrial Revolution. The bridge is supported by four cables, each 1090 meters (3578 feet) long, 40 centimeters (15.5 inches) thick, and made up of 21,000 individual wires.

brooklyn bridge construction

The towers are built of limestone, granite, and Rosendale cement.They are 84 meters (276 feet) above the water in Neo-Gothic-open truss design.

brooklyn bridge tower

The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge took its (human) toll – there are no exact numbers, but at least 20 people died building the architectural masterpiece. It started with the designer, John Augustus Roebling, who crushed his foot and had to amputate his toes, which lead to him dying of tetanus shortly after.

John Augustus Roebling’s 32-year-old son, Washington A. Roebling, took over as chief engineer. Roebling had worked with his father on several bridges and had helped design the Brooklyn Bridge.

After Washington Roebling fell ill, a third Roebling stepped in as the de facto chief engineer of the bridge, his wife, Emily Warren Roebling.She provided the critical written link between her husband and the engineers on site.

After 14 years of construction that cost $15 million, the Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 24, 1883. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

brooklyn bridge old photo

Huge crowds gathered on May 24, 1883, to watch the bridge’s opening ceremony, which The New York Times described, in reference to Brooklyn, as “the greatest gala day in the history of that moral suburb.”

brooklyn bridge opening 1883

Emily Warren Roebling was the first person to cross it on opening day.She rode an open carriage and carried a rooster to symbolize victory.

A week after the opening, on Memorial Day, an estimated 20,000 people were on the bridge when a panic started, allegedly over a rumor that it was about to collapse. Twelve people were crushed to death on a narrow stairway, and others emerged bloodied and in some cases without clothes.

The bridge was first called New York and Brooklyn Bridge, then became the East River Bridge until it was officially named Brooklyn Bridge in 1915.

In 1964, the bridge was designated a National Historic Landmark, having become an icon of New York City since its opening, and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.

brooklyn bridge at night

It was the longest suspension bridge in the world from 1883 to 1903 when the neighboring Williamsburg Bridge broke that record by 1.37 meters (4.5 feet).

The bridge originally carried horse-drawn and rail traffic, with a separate elevated walkway along the centerline for pedestrians and bicycles.

brooklyn bridge pedestrian walkway

Since 1950, the main roadway has carried six lanes of automobile traffic.

brooklyn bridge traffic

More than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge every day.

When the Brooklyn Bridge first opened, it cost a penny to cross by foot, 5 cents for a horse and rider and 10 cents for a horse and wagon. Farm animals were allowed at a price of 5 cents per cow and 2 cents per sheep or hog.

Between 17 and 20 pairs of peregrine falcons live in the NYC area, some of which make the Brooklyn Bridge towers their regular nesting site.

brooklyn bridge falcon

On May 17, 1884, P. T. Barnum led 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge to prove that it was stable.

The following year, Robert E. Odlum, a swimming instructor from Washington, D.C., became the first to leap into the East River below. He died, but a number of later jumpers survived, including one man allegedly trying to impress his girlfriend and another who wore large canvas wings.

In 1919, Giorgio Pessi piloted what was then one of the world’s largest airplanes, the Caproni Ca.5, under the bridge.

In June 1993, following 13 reconnoiters inside the metal structure, and with the help of a mountain guide, Thierry Devaux performed (illegally) eight acrobatic bungee jumps above the East River close to the Brooklyn-side pier, in the early morning. He used an electric winch between each acrobatic figure.

Beginning on May 22, 2008, festivities were held over a five-day period to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge.The events kicked off with a live performance of the Brooklyn Philharmonic in Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park, followed by special lighting of the bridge’s towers and a fireworks display.

brooklyn bridge fireworks

The Brooklyn Bridge has arguably inspired more art than any other manmade structure in the United States.Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and dozens of other well-known painters have incorporated it into their works, as have photographers (Walker Evans); documentarians (Ken Burns); playwrights (Arthur Miller); novelists (Henry Miller); newspaper columnists (Jimmy Breslin); urban historians (Lewis Mumford); poets (Jack Kerouac); and musicians (Wyclef Jean).

The bridge is often featured in wide shots of the New York City skyline in television and film. It has been shown in films such as Annie Hall, Gangs of New York, It Happened in Brooklyn, Kate & Leopold, Independence Day, I Am Legend, The Dark Knight Rises, Once Upon a Time in America, Godzilla, and The Avengers.

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