Iconic Construction Projects: the Brooklyn Bridge

It’s the Fourth of July today and all week both our customers and employees have been restless.  It’s hard to focus when there’s a big holiday in the middle of the week, we understand!  As we thought about what made sense to write about during this week we celebrate America, I thought that we should celebrate a really important construction project right here in our great state of New York: the Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s iconic, it’s well-recognized, it often makes appearances in movies, and it has a great history.  There are plenty of places you can get a deep history of this monument but we thought we’d give you the Rental Center of Monticello version: short, sweet, and to the point!


Don’t give up

John Augustus Roebling designed the Brooklyn Bridge.  He was a German immigrant who was well-known for other suspension bridges he had done in his new country.  However, while doing surveys for the bridge he sustained an injury which led to a tetanus infection (which in those days, could be fatal).  He did indeed end up dying from the tetanus, but not before he managed to pass on the entire project to his son Washington Roebling.

Washington Roebling worked down in the caissons – which you will recognize as the towers of the bridge – and before the US Navy had developed its diving tables which dealt with the problem of working at certain depths – and developed decompression sickness.  This was such a problem that Washington was unable to physically supervise the work.  His wife, Emily Warren Roebling, became the link between her recovering husband and the work site.  She spent the next 11 years supervising the construction, while learning higher mathematics and suspension bridge construction, among other things!

Crush rumors of your demise

The bridge opened on May 24, 1883 to much fanfare.  President Chester A. Arthur himself crossed the bridge with the first crowd of people to do so – but not before Emily.  You would figure all that hard work would count for something, and indeed, she was the first to cross it!

But just 6 days after the bridge opened there were rumors spread that it was about to collapse, which led to a stampede that got about a dozen people killed!  P.T. Barnum (yes, Barnum & Bailey’s Barnum) had enough of that and led 21 elephants across the bridge in a show of solidarity and to calm the citizens down.


Why is the Brooklyn Bridge standing, 130 years after its construction, when so many other bridges built around that era are no longer with us?  Firstly, Washington Roebling planned ahead.  Aerodynamics of bridge building had not been discovered as a discipline (and indeed, wouldn’t really be known until the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse: the bridge used to be called “Galloping Gertie” because of the way the bridge moved!) until the 1940s.  Despite not knowing about the aerodynamics, since Washington wanted the bridge to endure he built the bridge 6 times stronger than it needed to be.  Well, at least he wanted to.  A man had sold him some inferior wiring that compromised that and since it was still 4 times stronger than it needed to be, even with the compromised wiring, Roebling proceeded.  When you aim higher than your target, even when you fall short you hit your mark!

The bridge today is an iconic part of New York and whenever we take friends into the city, most of them ask to at least see it, if not also cross it.  They are in the midst of a “strengthening” project now which should be done next year (the approaches onto the bridge were deemed to be “poor” and are being redone) so there is some construction work on there but you can still walk across.

Crossing the Bridge

Lessons we take with us as part of our everyday work here (and lessons we share with our customers when they call in, halfway through a project):

1.  Be bold with your projects.  Dream big!

2.  Don’t give up even when obstacles get in your way.  Be creative with how you solve your problems.

3.  Build with quality and thoughtfulness so your work will outlast you.

A very Happy Independence Day to you all from all of us here at the Rental Center of Monticello!


About The Rental Center of Monticello, Inc.

Your full line party and equipment rental center.

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