In 1869, German immigrant and civil engineer John Roebling hatched a plan
to construct the world's first cable bridge. Since there was no other
bridge of its magnitude, experts wrote it off as impossible.
The only support he received for the idea was from his son Washington, also
a young engineer. Together, they prepared a detailed plan, recruited the
necessary team, and began construction.
While out surveying one day, Roebling's foot was crushed in a freak ferry
accident and he died from infection shortly after breaking ground.
His son, Washington, took over as chief engineer. However, Washington
suffered from decompression sickness ("the bends") after leading a team
down into one of the bridge's air-pressured caissons to extinguish a fire.
The accident left him permanently brain damaged, virtually immobile, and
The bridge's detractors began casting more doubts onto the ambitious
project, but Washington remained steadfast about fulfilling his father's
vision. Disabled, and only able to use his finger to communicate, he began
teaching his wife bridge construction.
For 11 years, Washington's wife Emily oversaw day-to-day supervision and
project management, while he monitored the progress from their living room
window. Emily also served Washington's nurse.
On May 24th, 1883, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed the
new East River Bridge, which was then the only land passage between
Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as the longest suspension bridge in the
In 1915, it was formally renamed the Brooklyn Bridge.