The Brooklyn Bridge is truly a marvel of engineering and aesthetics. While it is not the longest bridge in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge is every bit as famous and recognizable as its longer rivals. A prominent feature of the New York City skyline, the bridge is one of several that links Manhattan Island with the city's other boroughs. Originally called the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, the name was officially shortened to the Brooklyn Bridge in 1915.
Construction began in early 1870 and the bridge took just over three years to complete. The total length of the Brooklyn Bridge is just shy of 6000 feet and at one time was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Beyond the length and design, construction of the bridge was significant for a number of reasons. New York City is not one land mass but rather a collection of islands, including Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island. Brooklyn itself is on Long Island and the bridge was first to span the East River.
The historic importance of the Brooklyn Bridge cannot be overstated. As the first steel wire suspension bridge, the bridge helped to set the engineering standard for future bridges of similar designs. The bridge was the largest of its type from its opening in 1883 until 1903, when another New York City landmark, the Williamsburg Bridge, was completed in 1903. The Williamsburg Bridge was the second bridge to span the East River at the lower East Side of Manhattan.
The towers are constructed of granite and limestone in a neo-Gothic style that endures today and adds to the diversity of one of the world's great skyline views. The bridge once carried rail, automobile and pedestrian traffic. Today traffic is limited to cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.
The bridge, especially the twin towers on either end of the bridge was built at a significant human cost. The estimates of how many people died during construction range as high as thirty. Many workers died or became seriously during construction of the caissons that support the towers due a phenomenon dubbed caisson disease. Other workers were killed or injured as the result of accidents common to large-scale construction projects.
Caisson disease was a form of the bends, or decompression sickness, is a serious medical condition that commonly strikes divers. The bends result from a sudden reduction of ambient pressure around the body causing gas bubbles to form in the blood stream.
The New York City caisson of the Brooklyn Bridge extends some 78 feet below the water, while the caisson on the Brooklyn side is only 44 feet. Working inside huge wooden box frames, the river bottom was dug out by hand and the caisson workers came to be called sand hogs. At this depth, the pressure on the body increases from the normal atmospheric pressure of 14 pounds per square inch to 23 pounds per square inch. Compressed air was pumped in to keep the river from flooding the space. When a workman would ascend from the bottom, the abrupt change in pressure would bring on the bends.
Today's bridge designs take advantage of the tremendous strides made in computer aided design and graphic modeling. The designers of the Brooklyn Bridge had nothing more than the engineering tools of the time and managed to build a bridge that has stood the test of time. Given the lack of modern earth moving equipment and construction techniques, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge makes it one of the great modern marvels of the world.