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The Brooklyn Bridge - An Inspring Tale of Engineering

Updated on May 19, 2010
The Brooklyn Bridge (view from Brooklyn)
The Brooklyn Bridge (view from Brooklyn)

To engineer is human...

In 1883, an engineer, John Roebling wanted to build a bridge connecting Long Island to New York City. Bridge construction workers and engineers the world over thought this would be an impossible feat. They told him that it just couldn't be done, and that he was being impractical. In a way, the engineers that told John Roebling meant well.They were speaking from their own practical experience, and as we all know being pragmatic is one of the most important aspects of being an engineer.

However, another central tenet is not to ignore your creative inspiration. Roebling was indeed quite inspired by the idea to build a bridge from Long Island to NYC. He just couldn't ignore the passion he had for this idea. However, it was not easy to convince others to share his passion. It even took some work to convince his son, Washington, a blossoming young engineer, to help with the project.

Father and son began to develop concepts of how the bridge could be built and explored the full range of problems they could encounter in the construction. John Roebling even devised a new method of bridge analysis called an equilibrium strength approach. Many years passed before the project was approved by the state and others began to join their bandwagon. Soon afterwards, they began hiring the crew and began construction on their dream bridge.

The project was already off to a great start by 1869, until tragedy struck. One day, only a few months into construction, John Roebling was standing on the edge of a dock where the bridge was being built, when his foot was crushed by an entering ferry. This eventually led to the amputation of his toes. He also refused further medical treatment until his health deteriorated rapidly into tetanus, which ultimately led to his death.

His son, Washington was also injured during the project, which caused brain damage and prevented him from being able to walk and even move. However, Washington was not discouraged. Although immobile, he worked long and hard with his life to help finish plans for the bridge and continued to meet and communicate with his project engineers.

In 1883, the bridge between NYC and Brooklyn was finally completed, with a span of 1595 feet (1/3 of a mile)...a short distance on land, but certainly not suspended over water! This story shows us that even seemingly impossible, distant dreams can be realized with determination and persistence.


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    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 7 years ago from Canada

      Now that's fulfilling a dream! wow! :) hope it inspires others to follow their own dreams. :)