Having already completed several other suspension bridges throughout the eastern United States, German immigrant John Roebling set his sights on a bridge to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan, a project that would ultimately be his last.
At one time the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to complete and cost more than $16 million dollars, as well as the lives of many who worked on it.
Already a successful architect and engineer when construction began in 1869, Roebling’s notable achievements included being the first to design a suspension bridge strong enough to carry a railroad and the first to manufacture the wire rope that would be so integral to the design of such bridges
Roebling never saw the realization of his vision and died from an infection that developed after his foot was crushed by a ferryboat in 1869. His eldest son Washington Roebling took over the project and worked as chief engineer until its completion in 1883.
In his new position, Washington Roebling designed and worked within the two underwater caissons that became the foundations of the bridge. Like his father, he succumbed to tragedy during construction. In 1870, a bout of decompression sickness, also known as the bends, rendered him paralyzed.
After the accident, Roebling used a telescope to oversee construction from the window of his Brooklyn home. Onsite, his wife Emily acted in his stead, and she was soon seen as a project manager in her own right. At her husband’s insistence, she was the first person to cross the bridge by carriage. Later she went on to earn a law degree from New York University and was an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement.
In 2010, after 127 years of use, the New York City Department of Transportation began the process of rehabilitating the bridge. The construction will continue through 2014 as the bridge receives some much needed maintenance.