A bridge across the East River had been spoken about for many years until the designs by John Roebling in 1855 were submitted. Work begun in June 1869 but as Roebling was inspecting the work just a month into construction he had an accident that resulted in his foot being crushed by an incoming ferry as he stood on a pier. Sadly, John Roebling passed away from his injuries after succumbing to tetanus. The project however did not falter as his son, Washington took up his fathers role.
The vital piece of this construction was the foundations which during the Victorian era was a very dangerous undertaking. Workers had to work in a pressurised environment at 24m (80ft) below the surface of the river, digging by hand and the use of dynamite. There was no electricity or any other aid in case of an emergency. For this gruelling task the workers also known as 'Sandhogs' were paid $2.25 per day.
The chambers that the workers found themselves in were called caissons and a description by Washington's master mechanic was that 'it was a very noisy and confusing' place to be. The working conditions were so bad that workers falling ill with a mystery illness called Caissons Disease, a complaint we now today as Compression Sickness. It is recorded that 20 men died from this and Washington himself fell ill and had to sit out and watch construction from his home in Brooklyn Heights, a very affluent district. Washington's wife Emily took over the day to day supervision and organisation.
The bridge was completed after 14 years of construction on May 24th 1883 linking New York and Brooklyn for the first time in history. At its time of opening it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge required 600 workers and cost $15 million (roughly $320 million in todays money) and is in fact a hybrid as it consists of a cable stayed element as well as a suspension element. There were huge crowds that came to witness the bridges unveiling and to prove just how safe it was, in 1884, P. T. Barnum led 21 elephants across!
Today, the bridge is a major tourist attraction and is crossed by foot, road and rail between New York and Brooklyn. Like all high places Brooklyn Bridge has is share of tragedy as people use it to commit suicide. In 1885, Robert E. Odlum was the first man to jump and miraculously survived. In 1895, after filling her stockings with about 9kg os sand, Clara McArthur was the first woman to jump but again miraculously survived!
The busiest day in the bridges history came on America's saddest day, September 11th 2001 as the bridge saw thousands flee the tragic events surrounding the World Trade Centre.