Revolutionary Lifestyles

Corporate Deals

Constructing Class

Chief Engineers

An Icon Is Born

Appropriating Control

The People's Bridge

Bridge as Image



Bridge Timeline

Roebling Timeline

Bridge Statistics

Printable Text


Nearly one hundred and twenty years since its completion, the Brooklyn Bridge remains not just standing but a highly traveled corridor between Brooklyn and Manhattan with an estimated 145,000 vehicles crossing it per day ("Brooklyn Bridge"). The heroic accomplishment of the Brooklyn Bridge cannot be ignored for its structure survives largely intact from its opening day, and though its design was conceived in a horse-and-carriage age, it has withstood the effects of automobiles. Between 1944 and 1954 renovations strengthened the trusses, replaced the horizontal stays, removed railroad and trolley tracks (added in 1898), added two lanes, and increased the number of approaches. In 1999 another project reinforced the concrete decking that supports the roadway ("Brooklyn Bridge"). In its 120-year life, the bridge has required no other improvement. Additionally, both the federal government and the American Society of Civil Engineers have deemed the Brooklyn Bridge a national historic landmark.

Its iconic power, however, has declined due largely to its own success. Because of the increased volume of travelers crossing the East River and the obvious ease of bridge travel, the need for similar passageways arose. Within six years, the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges also spanned the East River and today ten bridges dot that waterway (McCullough 508, "Brooklyn Bridge"). These later bridges, however, share an aesthetic contradictory to that of the Roeblings: bare steel and utilitarian form replace intricate masonry and symbolic arches. McCullough notes, "By contrast to such gleaming creations, the Brooklyn Bridge [seems] an antique" (508). The best-known structure of this new style is the Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937, with its orange-painted steel shining in the California sunshine.

Irrespective of the newer suspension bridges that outdate the Roeblings' masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge retains its spirit. The architecture may be obsolete, but millions cross it every day. Tourists may not flock to its arches in such great droves, but its form remains alive in works of Stella, O'Keefe, and others. Moreover, the bridge's unifying tensions continue to mirror the defining aspects of American society, conflict in tension. Since becoming a borough of New York City in 1898, for example, Brooklyn has enjoyed equal legal status with Manhattan, but the former remains the punch line of numerous jokes not targeted at the latter. Perhaps urbanization, corporate business, splintering class systems, and the dismantling of the private sphere no longer capture our notice, but only because analogous contemporary issues such as internet privacy and same-sex marriages now occupy our attention. In a time of political correctness, when glossing over differences is preferable to true appreciation of said differences, America seeks to mask conflict, to deny the reality that our tensions bind us. Still, as Lewis Mumford once claimed, "The Brooklyn Bridge continues to repeat truths that we need to remember" (Burns). And because deep down we know this to be fact, the Brooklyn Bridge continues to capture our attention—just not as conspicuously.

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