Men who gave their lives for the Brooklyn Bridge

Constructing the Brooklyn Bridge didn’t just claim the lives of up to 30 laborers.

John and Washington Roebling, the father and son engineers in charge of building the bridge, were also casualties.

John Roebling, right, lost his life early on. Named chief engineer and given the go-ahead to start construction in 1867, he died after a freak accident.

While surveying the bridge site at the river’s edge, a ferry boat crushed his toes. They had to be amputated, which led to tetanus. He was dead that July.

Washington Roebling then took over. In 1872, while submerged in a caisson to supervise construction, he suffered decompression sickness—paralyzing him.

Though he was unable to leave his bed in his Brooklyn Heights home, Washington Roebling wasn’t ready to give up his gig as chief engineer.

From his top-floor bedroom at 106 Columbia Heights, he directed daily operations through his wife, Emily, right, who was unofficially in charge until the bridge was completed in 1883.

He could look through binoculars (above illustration) and watch the bridge—the towers, the steel cables, the roadway—go up, just as he’d planned (below photo).

A plaque on the bridge gives big props to Emily, her husband, and her father-in-law. And Roebling Street in Williamsburg also pays them homage.

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5 Responses to “Men who gave their lives for the Brooklyn Bridge”

  1. Jan Burke Says:

    I love this blog. Mentioned that fact again on Facebook tonight. Hope it brings more traffic your way. Thanks so much for these great posts!

  2. The Mondays, Vol. 2 « Wall People Says:

    […] lot of people died while building the Brooklyn Bridge — including John and Washington Roebling, a father/son team that were the engineers in charge of the project. But the bridge turned out cool […]

  3. K.Narayanan Says:

    Emily IS GOD ,MY TARGET 2015 ,Every day i will thank to Emily

  4. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    WASHINGTON ROEBLING had a severe case of ‘the bends’…it is like when a deep-water diver comes up too fast and bubbles develope in the blood.
    EMILY was a ‘devoted woman’ – (1) devoted to her husband; and, (2) devoted to the construction of the marvelous bridge. She had the honor of crossing the bridge FIRST at it’s opening – and for some reason I do not understand (and since the structure has nothing to do with the historic French ‘mascot’) – Emily carried ‘a rooster’ in her arms while in the parade-crossing!
    P.S.
    For those who can’t make it to Brooklyn / the East Coast, yet yearn for an up-close inspection of a Roebling Bridge, (featuring the famous wire-rope / suspension design) there is a small bridge in Waco, Texas that was the handiwork of the Roebling(s). Today it is on the Nat. Register; it spans the Brazos River; no longer carries vehicle traffic / only an occasional pseudo ‘cattle drive’; and, it is in a park-like setting offering an inviting location. While taking a slow stroll, you might guzzle a bottle of Dr. Pepper soda pop as a museum dedicated to it’s birthplace ‘n history is nearby.

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