The Brooklyn Bridge adorns New York City’s epic skyline and stands as an iconic symbol for the Big Apple. But how many interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge do you currently know?
Luckily for you, the bridge is an open book and we did some digging. We rounded up our favorite facts about the Brooklyn Bridge and would like to share them with you today. You know what they say, knowledge is power, and we’re here to share ours.
A (short) history of the Brooklyn Bridge
The genesis: The idea for the Brooklyn Bridge was noble and simple. An engineer wanted the working class to have an easier commute between Manhattan and Brooklyn (which were separate cities at the time). Before the Brooklyn Bridge was built, the only way to cross the East River was via ferry — a miserable endeavor during the brutally cold winter months.
But as with most things in life, money talks and good intentions don’t. The engineer needed some financial assistance to break ground on the bridge and he enlisted the help and an infamous, corrupt and effective politician. Let’s go over the key players in detail.
The key players behind the building of the Brooklyn Bridge
John Augustus Roebling: The man with the plan, literary. The idea for the bridge was conceived by John Roebling, a notable engineer best known for pioneering the use of steel wires in suspension bridges.
William Tweed: The (con)man with the cash, let’s call a spade a spade. Tweed was a bad dude, his past was riddled by corruption, bribery and greed but, damn — the man knew how to get things done. Roebling relied on Tweed’s ability to bribe council members (to the tune of $2 million in today’s dollars) to fund the project. Which, spoiler alert, they did.
Washington Augustus Roebling: The son of the man with the plan. Washington Roebling plays a big (albeit short) role in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ll delve into his story further below, but he deserves to be mentioned because he was a prominent figure.
How long did it take to build the Brooklyn Bridge?
Construction on the Brooklyn Bridge started in 1869 and wasn’t completed until 1883. It took 14 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge, which connected Manhattan and Brooklyn. The length of time it took to construct the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t too surprising when you consider how technical the project was, but thankfully the bridge has withstood the test of time.
Interesting Facts About the Brooklyn Bridge
#1. The Brooklyn Bridge was a bridge of many firsts
When construction was completed on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, it was officially deemed the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world. Meaning it was the very first suspension bridge in the world to use steel wiring in the construction.
The success of the bridge is contributed to the boundless strength of four monolithic suspension cables comprised of spun heavy wires. Indeed, Roebling’s mastery of steel wiring put this building method on the map.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, allow me to share another interesting fact about the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge was deemed the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened. Spanning an impressive 1,595 feet it dwarfed every bridge that came before.
How long is the Brooklyn Bridge? The Brooklyn Bridge is 1.1 miles long. But getting onto and off of the bridge adds extra distance, all told you can expect to walk 1.6 miles when crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bonus Brooklyn Bridge fact:
The Brooklyn Bridge held the title as the longest bridge in the world for twenty years until being beat by its neighbor, the Williamsburg Bridge.
#2. It wasn’t called the Brooklyn Bridge (at first)
This might be one of the most surprising facts about the Brooklyn Bridge, but the name we use for the bridge today didn’t become official until 1915 (32 years after it opened!). During construction the bridge was known as the Great East River Bridge or Great East River Suspension Bridge, and on dedication day it earned the moniker New York and Brooklyn Bridge.
But New Yorkers are busy people and nobody had enough time in the day to refer to the bridge as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. So New Yorkers did what New Yorkers do and they made life easier for everyone by shortening the name to Brooklyn Bridge in 1915. (Brooklyn residents are often credited for passionately pushing for the name.)
The rest, as they say, is history.
#3. At least 25 people died building the bridge
The first death on the job occurred before construction of the Brooklyn Bridge even began. To make matters worse, the first death was arguably the most catastrophic because it took the life of the most important person on the job, the head engineer John Roebling.
Roebling was taking obligatory compass readings before breaking ground on the project when his foot was crushed by a boat. The damage was so severe that his toes were amputated and he later succumbed to tetanus.
Roebling’s passing was devastating but he wasn’t the only one to die during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, far from it. At least 25 people died while building the bridge, some from falling off the towers, others from the blow of falling debris and many from caisson disease (better known as the bends).
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many folks die building the bridge, but what is known is that many suffered lingering life-long illnesses as a result of their working on the project.
#4. The family responsible for the bridge was ill-fated
As I mentioned earlier, John Roebling died before construction began and his son, Washington, took over as chief engineer. If we chalked this up to good old-fashioned nepotism we probably wouldn’t be wrong — but Washington was the most suitable person to take over since he worked closely with his father on the design of the bridge.
But here’s where things get tricky. Shortly after taking over Washington sustained a debilitating illness that removed him from the project. To better understand the ailment it’s important to understand a key detail in bridge engineering (getting technical, aren’t we).
The towers of the Brooklyn Bridge were built on caissons, which are large wooden boxes sunk to the bottom of the river bed. The caissons would be filled with compressed air to keep the water at bay while workers dug their way to solid bedrock. From there, the wooden boxes would be filled with concrete and serve as the foundation of the bridge.
Working inside the caisson was dangerous and taxing, but essential nonetheless. The most dangerous part of working in the caisson lends itself to being one of the most interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge — decompression sickness, better known as the bends. The bends is a debilitating condition that causes nitrogen bubbles to form in the bloodstream when divers come to the surface too quickly.
Washington Roebling often supervised workers in the caisson and developed the bends himself when he resurfaced too quickly in 1870. This rendered him unable to visit the worksite a mere year into construction, but fret not — smart men make smart decisions and Roebling was no exception. Let’s introduce our next key player.
Interested in learning about how the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed? Good on you! Here’s the definitive guide on the Brooklyn Bridge. Seriously, it’s the only resource you’ll ever need.
#5. Then, a woman saved the day
When Washington Roebling found himself bedridden he turned to his wife Emily, who stepped in as de facto chief engineer. Emily was not an engineer by trade but she was intelligent and understood the plans well enough to oversee the design and day-to-day construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
History books remember her kindly and she is often referred to as a pioneer of her time due to her tireless dedication and significant contributions to the Brooklyn Bridge. When the bridge was completed, Emily Roebling earned a law degree from New York University and became a proponent of gender equality.
Woman equality during construction of the bridge? That has to be one of the most interesting facts about the Brooklyn Bridge to date!
“I thought I would succumb, but I had a strong tower to lean upon, my wife, a women of infinite tact and wisest counsel”.Washington Roebling when asked about his sickness.
#6. Before the Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public, a rooster was involved
Emily’s significant contribution to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge allowed her the honor of being the first person to cross the bridge after completion. Recall that at the time of completion, the Brooklyn Bridge was not only the longest bridge in the world, but the first steel-suspension bridge ever built.
I can only imagine how nervous she felt! In comfort, Emily chose to cross the bridge on a horse-drawn carriage while carrying a rooster for good luck.
#7. Opening Day was cause for (massive) celebration
The long-awaited opening of the Brooklyn Bridge drew crowds from all corners of the state. The President of America, Chester Arthur, attended the ceremony alongside New York Governor (and further president) Grover Cleveland.
A military band played joyous tunes while troops and politicians crossed the bridge. But of course no celebration is complete without cannon fire, thankfully they had that too. Oh, and did I mention the hour-long firework show?
After all the charades wrapped up and the bridge officially opened, more than 150,000 people navigated the bridge from one end to the next. The bridge was a massive success and folks couldn’t get enough of it, until …
#8. And then cause for (massive) panic
This was one of the most interesting Brooklyn Bridge facts I came across during my research. A week after the bridge opened to the eager public something terrible happened. The cause of the instance is unclear, but a mad panic broke out on the bridge and caused a stampede.
Approximately 20,000 people were on the bridge when a rumor spread that the bridge was impending collapse. Naturally a panic set in and people started bolting towards the stairways. This resulted in a stampede that caused 12 deaths as people were crushed truing to escape.
#9. There used to be a toll for crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
Here’s a surprising fact about the Brooklyn Bridge many folks don’t know: there was a toll to cross the bridge when it originally opened. If you were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot you were expected to fork over a penny, if your horse came with then you needed to add 5 cents to the charge. Wagon? That’ll be 10 cents, good sir.
Oh, and if your cattle needed to make it to Manhattan that’d clock in at 5 cents, but the sheep and hogs would only cost you 2. Thankfully the toll system didn’t last long and was repealed in 1891. Today your cattle can cross from free.
#10. The bridge is home to the fastest animal in the world
Peregrine falcons are some of the coolest animals in the world, largely thanks to their mind-boggling speed. These birds can reach speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour! Unfortunately their population started dying off en masse due to pesticide poisoning. However, when pesticide were banned in 1972 the Peregrine falcons returned to the city and took up residence in tall structures.
A glaring fact about the Brooklyn Bridge is its towering size, even falcons can’t deny it. Today there’s several pairs of falcons that choose to nest on the Brooklyn Bridge.
#11. The Brooklyn Bridge is older than London’s Tower Bridge
This is a great Brooklyn Bridge trivia question for anyone looking to impress friends. When asked, most folks would guess that London’s famous Tower Bridge is older than NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge but that’s not the case.
Construction began in 1869 and wasn’t completed until 1883. Alternatively, London’s Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. It opened to the public 11 years after the Brooklyn Bridge.
#12. How many people cross the Brooklyn Bridge per day?
On average more than 116,000 vehicles, 3,000 bikers and 30,000 pedestrians cross the Brooklyn Bridge per day.
Cool facts about the Brooklyn Bridge (List Roundup)
In sum, here’s a quick recap of the coolest Brooklyn Bridge facts.
- It took 14 years to build the bridge
- The Brooklyn Bridge was a bridge of many firsts
- It wasn’t called the Brooklyn Bridge (at first)
- At least 25 people died while building the bridge
- The family responsible for the bridge was ill-fated
- Then, a woman stepped in
- The Brooklyn Bridge is older than London’s Tower Bridge
- Before the Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public, a rooster was involved
- Opening Day was cause for (massive) celebration
- There used to be a toll for crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
- Interesting fact about the Brooklyn Bridge: The panic
- The bridge is home to the fastest animal in the world
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