“140 Years of the Brooklyn Bridge: A Journey That Began with Elephants”

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The Brooklyn Bridge: A World Engineering Reference and a Must-See Postcard

On May 24, 1883, exactly 140 years ago, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge was inaugurated, linking the counties of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Prior to the bridge’s construction, the only way to cross the river was by ferry. Its opening attracted around 150,000 people who paid one cent to join the celebration. Emily Roebling, the daughter-in-law of the bridge’s designer, John August Roebling, became the first person to cross the bridge. Emily supervised the project to completion, despite not being an engineer.

Many doubted the strength of the 1,883-meter-long bridge, and a stampede occurred a few days after the opening, resulting in 12 deaths and seven serious injuries. To put to rest any doubt, a group of circus elephants, led by Jumbo, paraded across the bridge on May 17, 1884. The show publicized the bridge and proved its solidity, with the elephants and 17 accompanying camels weighing between 600 and 1,000 kilos in total.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world for two decades, with the construction taking 14 years. However, that title was short-lived when the Williamsburg Bridge, which opened in 1903, dethroned it. Nevertheless, the Brooklyn Bridge remains a classic world engineering reference.

Paul Schwartz, the deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation Bridge Division, said that “from that point on, the bridges began to grow more significant and longer, but all the knowledge or technology was based on the design used for the Brooklyn Bridge.” The four main cables that support the bridge remained original to the structure, and the agency has invested more than a billion dollars in construction contracts, including repairing the steel, painting, and improving the foundations to make them more resistant to earthquakes.

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At the moment, the bridge is undergoing renovation, including a deep cleaning of the granite stones, and when completed, it will return to its original brilliant gray of the 19th century. The Brooklyn Bridge has been designated as a National Historic Monument and a National Historic Civil Engineering Monument.

A Movie Bridge and a Unity Symbol

Aside from being a tourist attraction, the Brooklyn Bridge has been a popular movie setting for films like “Godzilla,” “Cloverfield,” and “The Amazing Spiderman 2.” A walk across the bridge provides an impressive view of the financial district, skyscrapers, and the Manhattan bridge.

On May 24, 2021, the Brooklyn Bridge celebrates its 140th anniversary, coinciding with the bridge’s symbolic unity between the US and Germany, as it was designed by a German engineer. To commemorate the occasion, Ydanis Rodríguez, the Commissioner of Transportation, delivered an original brick used in its construction to the German consul in New York, David Gill, as a symbol of that unity. For Rodríguez, “this bridge represents what New York is: a city of working people, a city that rises up after the pandemic.”

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