Function + Inspiration

On this date in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge, linking Brooklyn and Manhattan, was opened to traffic. German emigrant John Augustus Roebling conceived the design but did not live to see it even begin. He died from injuries sustained in an accident while overlooking the building site. His son, Washington Roebling, saw the project to completion but not without enduring his own physical problems directly due to working on this project.

Roebling used a series of wooden boxes called caissons to build his foundation for what would become the largest suspension bridge in the world. The boxes, built like an upside down barge, would be sealed watertight, floated, then pushed into position by tugs. At the proper place it would be sunk then the water pumped out while air was pumped in for the workers who were digging down to the bedrock. At the same time huge stone towers were being built on top of the caissons, helping them to sink down. Once the towers were in place the anchorages were built. These would hold up the cables and keep the roadbed from sagging. Each anchorage weighed 120,000,000 pounds. Much of the cable work was done by sailors since they had experience doing work while hanging from high masts.

This incredible structure is also the source of inspiration for many artists. No fewer than seventy works of art that directly include this structure are in our permanent collection. Oscar award winning cinematographer and photographer Karl Struss was particularly captivated by this bridge. We have thirty two photographs by this artist devoted to this historic landmark.

Karl Struss (1886-1981), Cables--New York Skyline through Brooklyn Bridge, ca. 1910-1912, Platinum print

Karl Struss (1886-1981)
Cables--New York Skyline through Brooklyn Bridge, ca. 1910-1912
Platinum print
P1980.3.13

FYI…John Roebling also designed a Texas landmark. The Waco suspension bridge opened in 1869 right next to the original site of the town.

Waco Suspension Bridge. 2 January 2007. Image by Georgi Petrov

Waco Suspension Bridge. 2 January 2007. Image by Georgi Petrov.

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