The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous New York City icons, but there is probably a lot about it that you simply don’t know. When you visit the Brooklyn Bridge to admire its beauty and its view, you’re bound to appreciate it even more after learning some of its history. Here are 20 things about the bridge that are both fascinating, educational, and just plain cool!
1. It First Linked Two Cities
When the Brooklyn Bridge first opened on May 24, 1883, it connected the city of Brooklyn to New York City. Spanning the East River, it could easily accommodate both pedestrian and road traffic. Within its first 24 hours of operation, over 250,000 people crossed this mammoth span. Brooklyn was not yet one of the five boroughs of NYC at that point, however, it became one on January 1, 1898.
2. It Shares Some Building Materials with Other American Landmarks
3. Its Name Has Changed a Few Times
Although it seems obvious to have called it the Brooklyn Bridge right from the start, the famous suspension bridge was first known as the Great East River Bridge. If you’re new to NYC geography, it’s the East River that runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and under the Brooklyn Bridge. When the bridge was dedicated, it was called the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. Its name was finally changed to the Brooklyn Bridge in 1915. Since locals had already shortened the clunky name to the Brooklyn Bridge, the city government agreed that the name should be formally changed as well to promote civic pride.
4. Bribery Got the Project Moving
5. Its Visionary Died Before Its Completion
Roebling was a German immigrant who came to America to find success as an engineer, since this profession did not provide economic mobility in Germany. After several starts and stops to his engineering career due to the Civil War, Roebling knew he had found his pinnacle project with the Brooklyn Bridge. Just a few months after construction began in 1869, a docking ferry crushed his foot when he was surveying land on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The injured toes were amputated, and he refused further medical treatment, dying of tetanus a few weeks later. His son and daughter-in-law, Washington Augustus and Emily Warren Roebling, finished the bridge.
6. Many Workers Became Ill, Including Roebling’s Son
7. Its First User, and Secret Chief Engineer, Was a Woman
Washington Augustus Roebling’s sickness prompted his wife Emily to learn bridge construction, taking over the day-to-day duties of building the Brooklyn Bridge. Shuttling back and forth between her husband’s bedside and the construction site, she is one of the primary reasons that the bridge’s construction was completed successfully. Emily was also the first person to ride across the finished bridge! She was followed by approximately 1,800 horse-drawn vehicles and one-quarter of a million pedestrians, who used the overhead promenade, over the course of the next 24 hours. Her husband watched her via telescope from his bed, cheering on not only his wife but also the completion of both he and his father’s life work.
8. The First Animal to Cross Was a… Rooster!
9. Shortly After it Opened, a Deadly Stampede Occurred
10. It Wasn’t Always Free to Use
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of only four NYC bridges that don’t have a toll. (The other three are the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro bridges.) However, when it first opened, it cost one penny to walk across the bridge and five cents to ride across on horseback. Horse-drawn wagons paid 10 cents, while farmers moving their cows, pigs, and sheep across had to pay five, two, and two cents per animal, respectively.
11. P.T. Barnum Got Involved
Speaking of animals–would you believe, elephants? It’s true: six days after the bridge’s opening, a rumor that it was about to collapse resulted in a stampede and several people were killed. Never one to shy away from publicity, Barnum put the instability rumors to rest nearly a year later, when he had 21 elephants parade across the Brooklyn Bridge.
12. Was the Longest Suspension Bridge
Those elephants had a long walk–at one time, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, measuring 1,600 feet from tower to tower (the main span) and a little more than 6,000 feet in total length. These days, the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan holds the honor, with the main span measuring 6,532 feet and a total length of nearly 13,000 feet.
13. It’s a Designated Landmark
The Brooklyn Bridge holds National Historic Landmark designation with the National Park Service (since 1964) and New York City Landmark status with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (since 1967).
14. It Was a Glorified Wine Cellar
Actually, make that two glorified wine cellars! Sip on this: Both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge contain a wine cellar “beneath the ramps that lead to the anchorages.” Roebling incorporated them into the design to help offset the bridge’s $15 million price tag and accommodate two liquor businesses that lay in the path of construction. The vaults were perfect for storing wine, as they were cool and dark. Although Prohibition led to the wine being replaced by newspapers for a brief time, all wine storage officially ceased after World War II, at which time the city took over the vaults.
15. It Also Housed a Fallout Shelter
16. It Has Seen Its Share of Stunts
Barnum’s elephant stunt was far from the last to occur on or from the Brooklyn Bridge. Robert Oldum, a swim instructor, was the first person to jump from the bridge, though unfortunately didn’t survive. Steve Brodie jumped and lived, and then channeled his fame into an acting career. Fifty years later, Jack Latkowski, known as the “new Steve Brodie,” was reported to have dived off the bridge several times, and his jackknife was even caught on film. In 2014, two German artists climbed the bridge’s towers and unfurled two white flags in place of the usual American flags that fly there.
17. It’s a Movie Star
Even before you visit the Brooklyn Bridge, you recognize it. That’s because the chances are good that you’ve seen the famous bridge in countless movies, both old and new. This includes “Moonstruck,” “Fantastic Four,” “Spider-Man” (the 2002 version), “I Am Legend,” “Cloverfield,” “Independence Day” and so many more.
18. The Original Color is Unclear
In 2010 the Brooklyn Bridge received a makeover, which included a fresh coat of paint. However, after over 127 years of wind, rain, snow, and pollution, it was unclear what the original color of the bridge actually was! In the end, the hue “Brooklyn Bridge tan” was decided upon as close to the Roebling’s original blueprints as possible.
19. George Washington Once Lived Here
20. Some Modern Vehicles Are Too Heavy to Cross
At the beginning of the bridge, signs clearly state that no commercial traffic is allowed and that the weight limit is 3 tons (6,000 pounds.) This is understandable, considering the bridge’s age. However, there are many modern large trucks and SUV’s that easily cruise over that 6,000-pound mark, even though they should technically take other routes. John Roebling could probably not image a 10 person SUV crossing his suspension bridge back in the late 1800’s!