Posted by: history591twenty3 | April 3, 2010

The Great Bridge

The Great Bridge The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge a landmark of technological accomplishment in the 19th century continues to stand and in uses today. The genius, John A. Roebling, drew the plans for the Brooklyn Bridge and his son Washington Roebling built the bridge, overcoming extraordinary difficulties, both man-made and natural. The structure, much longer than any prior suspension bridge, required more weight requiring steel cabling which Roebling perfected. The bridge appears the most beautiful suspension bridge in the world and withstanding time.
The use of caisson proved to ensue the stability of the bridge. The size of the caissons proved to engulf “more than half the size of a city block or the brand new St. Patrick’s Cathedral…” (174) and the weight of the caisson approximately 27,500 tons. (204) Washington Roebling “was the closet thing to an expert on caissons…”(170) With his expertise, the bridge stability experienced no failure as of today.
Washington Roebling decided to use steel cable instead of iron, a very “revolutionary and therefore questionable feature of his entire plan.” (30) This proved to glue the bridge for the future since steel out last iron (moisture of the river causing iron to rust) and the first time steel used on a bridge. By using steel the bridge, “it would double the strength of the iron based wire used on the bridges at Niagara and Cincinnati…and to guard against corrosive salt air…the wire would be galvanized—coated with zinc…” (351) Also his design of “harmony of opposite forces—the steel of the cables in tension, the granite of the towers in compression,” (30) emerged revolutionary for the time. He also designs, the first in the world, an elevated promenade for the pedestrians to view the city and the pure air. (32) Washington Roebling appeared to undermine his ability to design, always comparing himself to his father. Each man possessed strengths in his area of expertise but Washington Roebling built the bridge and made adjustment when needed, proving he possessed the willpower to accomplish the bridge.
Washington Roebling overcame many setbacks during the building of the bridge. The cost of the bridge more than doubled in price ($6 million to $15 million). The bridge, three times as long than the estimates his father’s plan, caused Washington to adjust the bridge plans. The twenty lives that died during the building of the bridge. (506) The bridge took fourteen years to complete, three times longer than planned. (505) Washington’s own health took a toll from caisson disease and possible a nervous breakdown. Washington an amazing man continued to fulfill his father’s dream of building the Brooklyn Bridge.
The bridge when completed amazed the public with the height and immense size of the bridge. The towers height “above water was 276 feet 6 inches.” (328) The weight of each anchorage “would be 120 million pounds, or sixty thousand tons.” (329) The anchor plates proved to cause concerned if not placed correctly, “weighed 46,000 pounds, or twenty-three tons, apiece and just getting them into position properly had taken some time.” (330) The vital statistics on pages 563-564 proved the bridge enormous undertaking and technological wonder. The bridge’s main components consisted of steel and stone. An amazing accomplishment for the time and the genius of both Roebling men proved anything is possible.
News of the bridge presented a problem for Washington. The newspaper questioned the amount of money needed to complete the bridge, the association with Boss Tweed, the deaths of the workers, stock fraud etc. Washington’s word did not escape suspicion. (276) Scientific America put doubts of the bridge to its reader, “the bridge would end up costing forty million dollars unless something were done. A bridge over the river was a bad idea anyway…”(277) It appeared the newspaper accused the people associated with bridge just to sell newspapers. A commission looked into the allegations and found no wrongdoings, yet the public remained suspicious.
Washington Roebling needed an airtight chamber to excavate the riverbed. Pressurized air pumped into the chamber prevented water and debris from coming into the chamber. Immigrants went into the chamber to work on the river bottom using shoves and dynamite to clear the mud and boulders from the bottom of the river. The airlock filled with compressed air helped the men breath while in the caisson. (294) A good idea but the drawback consisted when the men went back to the surface and nitrogen bubbles quickly released into the blood stream the men causing the bends. (310) Many men complained about painful joints, paralysis, numbness and some men died. Washington Roebling also catching this aliment and suffered for the rest of his life. The doctors did not knowing how to cure this strange aliment.

The Brooklyn Bridge goes through many controversies as the suggesting of teardown the bridge.  The bridge only needed some cables to be fixed and painting the bridge to make it look new.  The bridge, a wonder from the 19th Century, continues to impress the 21st Century.  The bridge made by immigrants and the designer an immigrant shows the possibilities of fulfilling ones dream and becoming someone in America.   Anything is possible when fulfilling a dream.


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