On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge, linking Brooklyn with Manhattan, was opened to traffic with a celebration attended by President Chester A. Arthur, Gov. Grover Cleveland of New York, and Emily Roebling, the wife of the bridge’s main engineer, Washington Roebling.
After 14 years and 27 deaths while being constructed, the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River is opened, connecting the great cities of New York and Brooklyn for the first time in history. Thousands of residents of Brooklyn and Manhattan Island turned out to witness the dedication ceremony, which was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland. Designed by the late John A. Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge ever built to that date.
Built to join the rapidly expanding cities of New York and Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge was thought by many at the start to be an impossibility destined to fail if not from insurmountable technical problems then from political corruption. (It was the heyday of Boss Tweed in New York.)
But the Brooklyn Bridge was at once the greatest engineering triumph of the age, a surpassing work of art, a proud American icon, and a story like no other in our history. Courage, chicanery, unprecedented ingenuity and plain blundering, heroes, rascals, all the best and worst in human nature played a part. At the center of the drama were the stricken chief engineer, Washington Roebling and his remarkable wife, Emily Warren Roebling, neither of whom ever gave up in the face of one heartbreaking setback after another.
In the years around 1870, when the project was first undertaken, the concept of building an unprecedented bridge to span the East River between the great cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn required a vision and determination comparable to that which went into the building of the great cathedrals. Throughout the fourteen years of its construction, the odds against the successful completion of the bridge seemed staggering. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, political empires fell, and surges of public emotion constantly threatened the project. But this is not merely the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time and of the heroes and rascals who had a hand in either constructing or exploiting the surpassing enterprise.
The bridge took 13 years to construct at a cost of $15 million. German immigrant John A. Roebling drafted original plans for the bridge, but he died in an accident a year before construction began. His son, Washington, took over the project and worked alongside laborers in underwater chambers known as caissons.
When it opened, the Brooklyn Bridge, also referred to as the Great East River Bridge, was the largest suspension bridge in the world, with a span of 1,595 feet. It had two carriageways and two railway lines, with a raised middle platform for pedestrians, who could cross the bridge for the price of one cent. It was the first land connection between New York and Brooklyn, which previously was linked only by ferry or boat.