Born out of necessity and engineered by one of the most exceptional architects of his time, the Brooklyn Bridge is more than a means of transport from New York to Brooklyn. The magnificent structure is a monument. Just as we judge the Egyptians by their Pyramids, our civilization will be recreated by the evaluation of this Great Bridge. Author, Montgomery Schuyler brilliantly describes it as “one of the greatest and most characteristic” structures, “the work is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a place, but a bridge” (McCullough 549). A landmark of engineering, technology, industry, passion, sentiment, and utility, the Brooklyn Bridge will forever remind America and all civilizations of her true greatness.
James A. Roebling, a well-educated German immigrant, envisioned for America an architectural wonder that would push economic and industrial goals into a new century. His vision was of magnitude that many could not conceptualize. The impact of his creation was even more massive than great structure itself. Roebling saw a future not only for New York and Brooklyn, but one that would advance America and establish the nation as an international force of power and might, much like the physical structure itself.
Physically, the Brooklyn Bridge surpassed all others before her. For close to fifty years it reigned as the largest suspension bridge on earth (McCullough 543). The 825 foot span of the Niagara Bridge was nothing compared to the greatness of Brooklyn. The impressive Cincinnati Bridge was shadowed by the towers of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge required less material than other kinds of bridges, and still provided much more (McCullough 71). Roebling’s progressive idea to use steel cable as opposed to iron, the material of which all other suspension systems were erected, provided strength unknown to any other suspension bridge before. Advanced design and steel provided the Brooklyn Bridge the ability to transport pedestrians, carriages, trolleys, and trains, all simultaneously (McCullough 79). Revolutionary and ingenious, the Brooklyn Bridge had might, size and versatility unlike any other of the 19th century, a true architectural and industrial achievement.
James Roebling was a visionary who dedicated his entire being to the creation of this massive monument to American civilization. The greatest irony of the Brooklyn Bridge lies in the relationship to the man and the structure. He would never live to see its beauty. “His training, all his ambition and ability, his entire life’s work had been building toward this greatest of bridges and he had not lived to do it—that was a tragedy people could readily understand regardless of how little previous interest they may have had in either the man or his work” (McCullough 94). The work had to be completed under the direction of Roebling’s son Washington. While disturbing, this irony provides yet another element to the Bridge, it was destined and no one man was going to control that destiny, not even the tough and intimidating Roebling himself.
The bridge provided the city of Brooklyn with every economic opportunity that Roebling and its designers promised. The connection between New York and Brooklyn created a commerce Mecca not only for America, but for the world. It became a central hub for exchange of goods and a safe commute for Americans. Great bridges were erected after the Brooklyn Bridge, but none seemed to have the influence or power of Brooklyn. Both the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge would eclipse the Brooklyn Bridge, but both of them are forever indebted to Brooklyn, as they were constructed of Roebling wire and inspired by her success (McCullough 552).
The hold that the Brooklyn Bridge has over people is as almost as incredible as its architecture. While difficult to pinpoint, this fascination that people have and all of the reasons that they have it is yet another testament to its greatness. Paintings, carvings, etchings, photographs, engravings, writings, and songs have been inspired by its beauty and integrity. The Brooklyn Bridge has been the center of more paintings, lithographs, and photographs than any other structure in America (McCullough 548). It has been the scene of many movies and the spot on which countless American couples have fallen in love or become engaged. The Brooklyn Bridge has been then source of inspiration and sentimental emotion for Americans since its construction.
Designed to move people and goods between New York and Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge became much more than a thoroughfare, it became an icon, a symbol of America. Inspired out of need and created out of genius, the Brooklyn Bridge has proven her worth. Today, the New York Public Works Department credits the Brooklyn Bridge as the least troublesome and the engineers who oversee her maintenance explain, “As far as we are concerned, it will last forever” (McCullough 562). Let’s aspire that it does.
“Shall shine this silvery tie;
The wondering world will gather here,
And gaze, with gleaming eye.
Philosophers will ponder
How, blessed by the hand of Heaven.
The world has another wonder
To add to her ancient seven.
Philanthropists will linger
To view the giant span,
And point, with grateful finger,
To man’s great work for man ;
And all will bless the year
When, in the May-month green,
The King of the Western Hemisphere
Was wed to the Island Queen.”
Brooklyn, N. Y.