How a German family built an icon of New York

The Brooklyn Bridge has spanned the East River in New York since 1883 and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. But hardly anyone knows that this masterpiece was built by a German family. But they paid a heavy price for their success.

The Brooklyn Bridge is as much an integral part of the New York City scene as the Statue of Liberty or the World Trade Center. Since 1883, it has connected Manhattan and Brooklyn via the East River, crossing about 150,000 cars and many pedestrians every day. However, few of them are likely to know what a masterpiece the bridge was once built. And that a German family built the New York icon.

In 1867, according to history, German immigrant John Augustus Roebling was awarded a contract from New York City to build the Brooklyn Bridge. Roebling, who studied industrial engineering in Berlin, has already made a name for himself with two impressive bridges over the Niagara Strait and the Ohio River. He himself successfully runs the wire rope production line. He also used materials, which were new at the time, for his buildings.

The death of the visionary

The Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River, connecting Manhattan and BrooklynPhoto: Getty Images

Although there were already many suspension bridges in the United States at the time, they were still considered susceptible to strong winds or excessive loads. Roebling’s plan to build the 1,800-meter Brooklyn Bridge, which would be the longest in the world, has attracted more attention. The German engineer spent two years planning the construction of the bridge, which was to finally begin in 1869. Unfortunately, Roebling did not live to see this proud moment again.

While he was taking some final measurements to build the Brooklyn Bridge, a boat crushed several toes on one foot. As a result, Roebling fell ill with tetanus and died three weeks after the accident, even before the groundbreaking ceremony for his masterpiece. He is now supervised by his son, Washington A. 32-year-old Roebling on construction work. He had worked with his father on plans for the Brooklyn Bridge and had previously worked with him on other projects.

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Terrible working conditions

But Washington Roebling also met a terrible fate, due to the harsh working conditions that prevailed during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Because in order to place the bridge poles, you have to work underwater in the so-called diving boxes. These are filled with compressed air to prevent water from entering. But as a result, many workers die from a horrific phenomenon called decompression sickness.

Even inside diving boxes, working conditions are harsh. Warm compressed air sometimes causes severe headaches, itching, nosebleeds, or a slow heartbeat. However, the real deadly danger is workplace diving underwater, which is done using an iron container filled with compressed air called an airlock. According to “Apotheken Umschau”, decompression sickness that sometimes occurs as a result of gas formation in the blood.

woman working as bridge manager

Brooklyn Bridge
In addition to countless cars, about 150,000 pedestrians cross the Brooklyn Bridge each dayPhoto: Getty Images

Because the deeper you dive, the higher the ambient pressure. The higher the concentration of nitrogen in the blood and tissues. As you slowly ascend, this nitrogen is released from the tissues into the blood again, because the ambient pressure is now lowering again. However, in airlocks, workers usually returned to the surface of the water quickly, often with disastrous consequences. The nitrogen in her body is then released back into the blood very quickly, sometimes causing speech disturbances and convulsions, but also causing paralysis and, in the worst cases, a fatal pulmonary embolism.

More than a hundred workers suffered from decompression sickness during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. More than twenty lost their lives as a result of this or other accidents at work. Washington Roebling himself was paralyzed for the rest of his life after diving. As a result, he handed overs supervision of the construction work to his wife, Emily Warren Roebling. She continued this for 11 years until the bridge was completed, gaining relevant knowledge for herself. Since then, her husband has had to follow through on the construction of the bridge from his home with binoculars.

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An expensive astronomical miracle

Brooklyn Bridge
The Manhattan skyline can be seen behind the Brooklyn Bridge. When this was built, Brooklyn was still a separate cityPhoto: Getty Images

According to “Encyclopedia Britannica,” several accidents still haunt the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge before it finally opens. Sometimes a fire breaks out, and then one of the diving boxes explodes. The already installed cable breaks again and falls into the river, and in the end, a scam by the wiring supplier requires the replacement of tons of cables.

But on May 24, 1883, the time finally came. According to “The History”, the Brooklyn Bridge will be opened with a grand ceremony by US President Chester Arthur and New York Mayor Grover Cleveland. Emily Warren Roebling is the first to cross her, dick on her lap as a symbol of technical victory. Within the first 24 hours, 150,000 pedestrians crossed the bridge. Countless people celebrate the inauguration of what was soon known, at least in New York, as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Its cost was also really charming: $15 million, which is equivalent to the current value of $320 million.

scramble and circus

But the Brooklyn Bridge is far from the New York icon we know. This is due to a circumstance that seems strange today. Because many people initially feared using what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. According to an “Architectural Digest” report, a stampede also occurred shortly after the opening in which 12 people were killed when a woman stumbled on the Brooklyn Bridge. After all, it takes a unique trick to inspire New Yorkers to trust their “own” bridge.

Because in order to demonstrate the resilience of the Brooklyn Bridge, you could simply send an entire circus over it. On May 17, 1884, he crossed the entire length of the bridge with 21 elephants. According to CBS News, one million people celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge on the building. On September 11, 2001, it became a symbol of national tragedy when people used it to flee after the attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

Today, more than one million people visit the Brooklyn Bridge each year, according to Go New York. It has long been one of the most famous buildings in New York and the United States. The United States owes this to a German immigrant family.

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