It takes an abundance of confidence to decide to build a suspension bridge that’s fifty percent longer than the longest one in existence. But that’s what bridge designer John Roebling and his son Washington Roebling did. Until their work was complete, the only way to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn was by ferry. The Brooklyn Bridge, opened in 1883, turned out to be 5,989 feet long. Now, more than 125 years later, it still carries more than 120,000 vehicles a day over the East River, along with untold pedestrians and bicycles.
Although 27 people died during construction, the Roeblings’ design and construction turned out to be ahead of its time. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension/cable-stay hybrid, and Washington Roebling tried to build a structure that would be six times as strong as necessary. He succeeded, and the Brooklyn Bridge still is a key part of the New York City transportation matrix long after other bridges have been replaced.
The Brooklyn Bridge became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The Bridge’s distinctive Gothic design is one reason it ranked number 20 in the AIA’s list of America’s Favorite Architecture. It’s the second bridge on the list, trailing only the Golden Gate (Great American Things, August 21, 2010).