• Weird History

Building The Brooklyn Bridge Was An Unimaginably Complex And Brutal Undertaking

The Brooklyn Bridge is not only one of the top attractions of New York City, but it is also one of the oldest suspension bridges in the world. It connects Manhattan to Brooklyn and crosses the East River. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. But building the bridge was a huge undertaking and fraught with tragedy. It took 14 years to complete and nearly 30 people died from various incidents during its construction.

After the bridge was completed in 1883, it supported horse-drawn carriages and rail traffic. A separate elevated walkway in the center was designated for pedestrians and bicycles. The bridge has carried six lanes of automobile traffic since 1950. After receiving a "poor" rating during a routine inspection, the bridge was renovated between 2010 and 2015 at a cost of $558 million. On an average weekday, an estimated 145,000 vehicles cross the bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge has been an invaluable method of transportation, particularly during the 1965, 1977, and 2003 New York City blackouts. In 2001, it famously transported thousands of pedestrians following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, when bus and subway services were suspended. To learn more about the disturbing and difficult task of building the Brooklyn Bridge, read on below. 

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  • More Than Two Dozen Workers Died

    Photo: Eugene de Salignac / Wikimedia Commons

    There were several laborers who died during the building process of the Brooklyn Bridge. More than two dozen construction workers were killed in a fire and from falling. A handful died "by crashing derricks, and by a host of other disasters." 

    One of the scariest cases of death was when a man named Cope accidentally got his foot wrapped up in some rope that was being coiled by a hoisting engine. He leg quickly swiveled around the engine's drum and he perished almost instantly.

  • The Chief Engineer Was Paralyzed During Construction & His Wife Took Over

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons

    During construction of the bridge, chief engineer Washington Roebling suffered from the bends and became partially paralyzed. The disability plagued him for the rest of his life. After he was paralyzed, he was still able to supervise the construction by using a telescope. His wife, Emily, ended up taking charge of the project. Washington dictated his orders to Emily, who passed on his instructions to the workers.

    Sadly, it wasn't until the early 20th century that scientists realized "the bends" could have been avoided had the workers resurfaced at a slower speed. 

  • 12 People Died In A Stampede Just Days After It Was Completed

    Just days after the bridge opened, a woman tripped on the steps leading to the entrance. When she fell, another woman screamed. Thinking that something was wrong with the bridge and that it was on the verge of collapse, throngs of other pedestrians, including men, women, and children, caused a stampede. Twelve people died and 35 sustained severe wounds following the incidents. 

  • There Were Numerous Problems During Construction

    After chief engineer Washington Roebling was paralyzed from caisson disease, the crew had to deal with numerous issues. At one point, an unexpected blast destroyed one of the caissons. Then, a fire damaged another caisson. In addition, one of the cables snapped off its anchorage and landed in the river.