Find out cool historic tidbits about the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the city's most iconic landmarks, by clicking through our slide show.
When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a span of just over one mile. That record held until 1903, when another East River crossing, the Williamsburg Bridge, was completed. The Brooklyn Bridge was also the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge.
When the Manhattan side was built, chief engineer Washington Roebling got the bends as well. Washington spent the next decade watching the bridge’s progress through a telescope and relaying directions through his wife, Emily. According to Seth Kamil of Big Onion Walking Tours (bigonion.com), Emily became quite the powerhouse, eventually making decisions about the bridge, which she carried out without her husband’s approval. A plaque on the Brooklyn tower honors her with this quote: “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman.”
The bridge’s construction began on the Brooklyn side, pictured here (the Manhattan skyline is in the distance). To lay the foundation on bedrock 44 feet below water, workers in airtight containers chipped away at the riverbed. More than 100 were paralyzed with the bends—caused by the change in air pressure when they surfaced.
This photo, taken by Silas A. Holmes in 1872, depicts workers atop equipment that was used during the construction of the bridge.
Construction on the bridge began in 1870 and wasn’t completed until 1883. This photo shows the structure in the middle of the process. The crossing was called, at various times, the East River Bridge and the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, and was officially given the moniker of Brooklyn Bridge in 1915.
This cartoon, depicting the bridge’s grand opening on May 24, 1883, was published in Puck, a humor magazine owned by Austrian immigrant Joseph Ferdinand Keppler. Among the New York City–based figures pictured in the illustration are editors Joseph Pulitzer and Carl Schurz, Republican politicians George Robeson and Roscoe Conkling, and 18th president Ulysses S. Grant.
The iconic East River crossing is supported by giant anchorages, pictured here, which are the massive stone and concrete structures underneath the entrance ramp on both sides of the bridge. Our Secrets of Classic New York issue revealed that these supports were originally intended to serve another purpose. “John Roebling, the engineer, envisioned that they would double as shopping arcades. He gave the inside [of each] the same Gothic design as the towers, with beautiful 50-foot-high cathedral ceilings,” says Julie Golia, public historian of the Brooklyn Historical Society. “But that plan fell through, and for most of history they’ve been municipal storage.”
Situated underneath the massive crossing and its next-door neighbor, the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of the newest additions to the Brooklyn waterfront. Plenty of amenities are found within the green space: You can lounge on a grassy lawn at Pier 1, ride along a bike path that hugs the shoreline, or chow down on snacks from Bark Hot Dogs and Ditch Plains on Pier 6. Best of all, those activities come with a gratis view of the iconic structure.
Opened in 2011, Jane’s Carousel is a refurbished merry-go-round dating to 1922. The retro ride is enclosed in a glass pavilion, and as you go for a spin, you’ll have glorious vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan.
Bargemusic, a floating chamber-music concert hall, hosts a number of concerts each week, along with a free show every Saturday. The stage has a glittering view of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge as its backdrop, and you can also admire an expanded, panoramic vista (stretching from the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty) from the barge’s roof during intermission.
In early July, a pop-up pool opened on Pier 2 of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The small basin is 3.5 feet deep and can fit 60 swimmers at a time; to prevent overcrowding, patrons are let in during timed sessions. (You’ll have to queue up for a wristband—be prepared, as lines have been long.)
Another spot that provides stunning views of the bridge is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. It’s easy to forget that you’re standing atop the hectic Brooklyn-Queens Expressway while strolling along the esplanade, which opened in 1950. But the thoroughfare is inextricably linked to the Promenade’s existence: Community opposition to the BQE—originally intended to cut through Brooklyn Heights—led city planner Robert Moses to reroute the highway along the waterfront. He also proposed building a park atop the road to block noise.
Hailed as a wonder of the age when it opened in 1883, the bridge had become ho-hum by the 1920s, when photographer Walker Evans’s views of the structure helped to reawaken the public’s interest. Up until that point, most photographs depicted the entire span from the side. Evans, who lived near the Bridge at the time, decided on an entirely new approach: He captured parts of the Bridge at angles that emphasized its grandeur, transforming it into an indelible New York symbol.
With this image, photographer Stephanie Keith captured a moment in recent history: This young woman is being arrested by police on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy Wall Street protest in October 2011. It's one of the images selected as one of our top 50 New York photographs.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a spectacular vantage point from which to watch the sun set—here, you can see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance, as the glowing orb descends on the horizon.
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