New York’s pathbreaking Brooklyn Bridge turns 140
By Ruth E. Hernandez Beltran
New York, May 20 (EFE).- On May 24, 1883, New York City officials inaugurated the first bridge across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, a structure that set a new standard for spans around the world and became an obligatory stop for visitors to the Big Apple.
On that day, some 150,000 pedestrians and 1,800 vehicles crossed what was then called the New York and Brooklyn Bridge.
The honor of being the first to step on the bridge was given to Emily Roebling, the daughter-in-law of designer John Augustus Roebling and wife of chief engineer Washington Roebling.
John died of tetanus after a mishap while determining the exact location of the bridge and his son suffered a debilitating injury during construction, leaving Emily to oversee the completion of the project.
In all, 27 workers died in accidents during the 14 years it took to build the bridge.
It was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening, with a main span of 1,595.5 ft (486.3 m) and concerns about safety were heightened six days after the opening when a pedestrian fell down a stairway, causing a stampede that left 12 people dead.
To persuade New Yorkers that the bridge was secure, circus master P.T. Barnum’s had one of his most famous attractions, Jumbo the Elephant, led a parade of 21 elephants – each weighing 4 tons – across the span.
Originally built to accommodate horse-drawn wheeled vehicles and trains, with a pedestrian walkway above the main traffic lanes, the Brooklyn Bridge now serves motorists, cyclists, and people on foot.
In a typical day, the bridge carries 116,000 motor vehicles and more than 3,000 bicycles, while 30,000 people make use of the pedestrian promenade.
Though longer, taller, and wider bridges have been built in the last 140 years, “all of the knowledge and the technology” used in those structures originated with the Brooklyn Bridge, Paul Schwartz, deputy commissioner of the Division of Bridges of the New York City Department of Transportation, told EFE.
The department has spent more than $1 billion over the last 20 years in renovations and improvements to the iconic span.
Listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1964, the Brooklyn Bridge was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972, The bridge has also been proposed for inclusion on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. EFE rh/dr