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FreightWaves Classics / Infrastructure: The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was overseen by a woman

The Brooklyn Bridge straddles the East River and connects the two provinces of New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn). The bridge, with its granite tower and steel cables, towers proudly over the river and was designed by John A. Loebling. Construction began in 1869 and was completed in 1883. At that time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The cost of building the bridge was $ 15 million (equivalent to more than $ 320 million today).

Known for its striking stone arches, the Brooklyn Bridge supports six-lane vehicles (no trucks) and shares a pedestrian and biking road. Due to the elevation of the East River and the span above the relatively low coast, the bridge slopes to ground level, so it extends quite inland on both sides of the river.

The Brooklyn Bridge was built in 1880. (Photo: JA LeRoy / Museum of the City of New York)
The Brooklyn Bridge was built in 1880. (Photo: JA LeRoy / Museum of the City of New York)

The total length of the bridge and its approach is 6,016 feet. Its main span is 1,595.5 feet long and the central bridge clearance is 135 feet. An average of 150,00 vehicles, 30,000 pedestrians and 3,000 cyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge each day.

John A. Roebling. (Image: Public Domain / National Park Service)
John A. Roebling.
(Image: Public Domain / National Park Service)

Designer / first chief engineer

As mentioned above, German immigrant John A. Roebling designed the Brooklyn Bridge. He had previously designed several suspension bridges. It was widely used in the 1850s and 1960s, but was known to fail in strong winds and heavy loads. Roebling addressed these issues by combining structural elements from previous bridge designs, such as cable arrays and stiffening trusses. Using these elements, Roebling succeeded in bridging the Niagara Valley in Niagara Falls, New York, and the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Based on Roebling’s previous design and achievements, political leaders at Tammany Hall in New York have approved a plan for a suspension bridge over the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge was the first suspension bridge built using steel cables and was the longest bridge in the world at the time, about 1,600 feet from tower to tower.

Roebling was also hired as chief engineer of the bridge and to oversee its construction. However, he was injured when the boat broke the toe of one foot shortly before construction began in 1869. Three weeks later he died of tetanus. Roebling’s 32-year-old son, Washington A. Roebling, assumed the role of chief engineer. He worked with his father on several bridges and helped design the Brooklyn Bridge.

Washington A. Roebling

During the Civil War, Washington Roebling served as a Union Army technical officer. In 1864 he worked under Gavanua K. Warren, a 1850 graduate of the US Army Military School, who was the commander of the corps. Roebling met Warren’s sister Emily, who married in 1865.

The Warrens were a socially prominent family whose roots were in the Mayflower. Gueva Noor and Emily’s father was a member of the state legislature and a town supervisor.

Washington A. Roebling and his wife Emily Warren Roebling's wedding day. (Photo: blogs.libraries.rutgers.edu)
Washington A. Roebling and his wife Emily Warren Roebling’s wedding day. (Photo: blogs.libraries.rutgers.edu)

At the age of 22, Emily went to Europe with her husband. Washington Roebling’s father sent him to study the latest techniques for building foundations underwater using sealed and pressurized caissons. She also learned Emily. She was interested in building a bridge and deepened her knowledge before her husband was appointed chief engineer. To further help and support her husband, Emily devoted herself to civil engineering and she studied topics such as strength of materials, stress analysis, and cable construction.

After taking command of the Brooklyn Bridge project after his father’s death, Washington suffered a violent decompression sickness (“bend”) attack as a result of prolonged exposure to the pressure of the caisson at the bottom of the East River. ..

As the illness progressed, he became more and more disabled and Emily was forced to fulfill most of his engineering duties during the construction of the bridge. Since 1872, Roebling has been essentially invalid. Emily took care of him at his home in Trenton, NJ (which also had a steel cable factory for the Roebling family) and at his Brooklyn Heights residence (where Washington can observe bridge work with a telescope).

Originally named New York and the Brooklyn Bridge, this photo is from 1883. (Photo: Silas A. Holmes / Museum of the City of New York)
Originally named New York and the Brooklyn Bridge, this photo is from 1883.
(Photo: Silas A. Holmes / Museum of the City of New York)

Emily Warren Robe Ring

She planned the continuous construction of the bridge with her husband and actively managed the day-to-day construction activities. Emily served as a liaison between the engineering team working on the bridge and her husband, demonstrating her knowledge and proficiency in construction, materials and cable manufacturing issues over time, some. One concludes that she has become the chief engineer.

During the construction of the bridge, she was actively involved with politicians, engineers and other people involved in the project. Emily Roebling was the de facto chief engineer, as well as her husband’s advocate and spokeswoman. She reassured authorities that he maintained the ability to oversee and manage the project. Nonetheless, many have recognized her as the engineer who is primarily responsible for leading the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 24, 1883. (Image: Museum of the City of New York)
Celebrate the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on the night of May 24th, 1883. (Image: Museum of the City of New York)

At the grand opening of the bridge in May 1883, Emily Roebling rode with President Chester A. Arthur on the first carriage across the bridge from the Brooklyn side. In a devoted speech on the first day, philanthropist, political reformer and steelmaker Abram S. Hewitt declared that the new bridge would “connect” with Emily Warren Roebling’s ideas. He also said the bridge was “an eternal monument to the self-sacrificing dedication of women and her ability to higher education, which has long been forbidden.”

Portrait of Emily Warren Roebling in 1896 by Charles-Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. (Image: Brooklyn Museum)
Portrait of Emily Warren Roebling in 1896 by Charles-Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran.
(Image: Brooklyn Museum)

Life after the brooklyn bridge

After the bridge was completed, Emily spent most of 1884-88 in Troy, New York, where her son attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She then oversaw the construction of her new family home in Trenton, where her husband returned to her family’s business and pursued other interests as her health allowed. Meanwhile, Emily became active in several social and charitable organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Hughgnot Society.

She also traveled extensively. She attended the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, and she was presented to Queen Victoria of London in 1896. Emily Roebling was both a nurse and a construction supervisor at the Montoak camp on Long Island, which was set up to house soldiers returning from Spain. American war.

She also received a certificate of business law from the Faculty of Women’s Law at New York University in 1899 (at that time NYU did not enroll women in law school). Roebling traveled extensively and gave lectures until she died in 1903.

Emily Warren Robe Ring. (Photo: asce.org)
Emily Warren Robe Ring.
(Photo: asce.org)

heritage

The Brooklyn Bridge is considered an engineering wonder of the 19th century. At least 20 people died during construction, including the father-in-law of the bridge designer Emily Roebling. Hundreds of people were injured during construction, including Emily Roebling’s husband. However, her knowledge and determination meant that her husband remained the chief engineer of the project, even though it was invalidated during construction.

Today, Emily Warren Roebling is legitimately regarded as a female engineer who is responsible for leading the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. In addition, she was an American notable, wife, mother, architect, and businessman.

In a summary of her book “Silent Builders: Emily Warren Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge,” Marilyn Waygold said: At least the Brooklyn Bridge has endured. “

The Brooklyn Bridge rises in two New York City provinces in the 1880s. (Image: Library of Congress Prints and Photography)
The Brooklyn Bridge rises in two New York City provinces in the 1880s.
(Image: Library of Congress Prints and Photography)

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