It’s hard to think of Brooklyn without thinking about the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Opened in 1883, the history of the bridge is as unique as its design and that history is a big part of makes the bridge so interesting even today. The bridge is a combination of a cable-stayed and suspension bridge design, an advanced construction method for its time and a risky undertaking for workers and designers. From deep under the East River to the sky-high towers and cables, the bridge was one of the largest construction projects ever attempted and had more than its share of obstacles before becoming the landmark it is today.
- If it was built today, the Brooklyn Bridge would cost $320 million.
The construction took 14 years of continuous labor by over 600 workers at a cost of $15 million. If the bridge was built today, it would cost more than $320 million. The original construction was estimated to be complete in 7 years at a cost of about $8 million, but for a variety of circumstances, the end result took twice as long and cost about twice as much as originally planned.
- The original bridge architect died before the bridge could open.
Chief Architect John Roebling was injured while surveying the bridge site from a pier when a ferry came in too close and crushed his foot when it pinned his leg against the pier. Workers had to help him get his foot unstuck and when Roebling went to the doctor, the damage was so bad that they wanted to amputate. The architect wanted no part of that and decided to let his injury heal on its own. He died a month later. Washington Roebling, John’s son, took over the bridge design and eventually completed the bridge using his father’s original plans.
- Illness plagued the workers on the bridge.
Workers labored in large, watertight containers during construction and became ill from what we now call “the bends”. “The bends” is a term most associated with scuba divers when they surface too quickly through different water pressures, referring to the gasses that are released into the body. At the time it was called Caisson’s Disease, named for the large chambers that the workers spent so much time in. This danger alone created a high amount of workers quitting their jobs every week.
- The Manhattan tower rests on sand, not bedrock.
The towers of the bridge weigh 90,000 tons, a weight designed to make the towers heavy enough heavy enough to create a firm foundation, but not heavy enough to sink. Due to many factors, including Caisson’s Disease, workers on the Manhattan side of the bridge stopped construction of the foundation at 80 feet. The tower was designed to be built on bedrock, which was another 27 down. Illness, fatigue and time constraints led to the change in plans leaving that end of the bridge resting on an existing sandbar.
- The Brooklyn Bridge has been called “The Bridge of Death”.
As progressive as the design and construction of the bridge was in the 1880s, the beautiful landmark also has its darker side. Approximately 27 people died during the construction of the bridge due to illness, falls, falling granite stones and just about every other hazard such a large and dangerous project presents. A week after it finally opened, a stampede of visitors rushed off the bridge in a false belief that the bridge was coming down. The mass chaos ended up killing twelve people and injuring many more. The bridge continues to have its share of deaths from thrill seekers and suicides.