A Guide to Manhattan's Bridges: Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge Has Been Wowing NYC Audiences Since 1883

Photo credit: Image Source / Ditto / Getty Images

NYC's most iconic bridge, and one of its star attractions, the Brooklyn Bridge has been wowing audiences since 1883—considered to be the most architecturally elegant bridge in New York City, its regularly counted among the world's most beautiful spans.

Connecting Downtown Manhattan with the Downtown/DUMBO neighborhoods in Brooklyn, crossing over the East River on this stunner of a bridge is a rite of passage to anybody who sets foot in New York City. Hoofing it is the best way to appreciate the bridge's sheer beauty, with its granite neo-Gothic towers with twin arched portals; artful, web-like cables; and exhilarating views. Here's everything you need to know about the Brooklyn Bridge:

Brooklyn Bridge History

When it opened on May 24, 1883, the neo-Gothic Brooklyn Bridge debuted as the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge, with the 1,596-foot main span between its two support towers measuring as the lengthiest in the world. A massive feat of 19th-century engineering, the bridge was the first to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, which were, at the time, two separate cities (Brooklyn didn't become part of greater New York City until 1898).

The bridge's 14-year construction was not without its sacrifice, with more than two dozen bridge workers losing their lives via a variety of accidents. Before the bridge construction even began, German-born engineer John A. Roebling, who designed the bridge, succumbed to a tetanus infection from a ferry accident while surveying the site (his foot got crushed by a ferry boat that pinned it against a piling). His son, 32-year-old Washington Roebling took over as the project's chief engineer. Just three years into the project, Washington Roebling himself suffered from decompression sickness (aka "the bends"), while assisting in the riverbed excavation for the foundation of the bridge towers. Bedridden with his affliction, and partially paralyzed for life, his wife, Emily, acted on his behalf and extraordinarily oversaw the final 11 years of the bridge's construction (while her husband watched the project unfold via telescope, from his apartment window in Brooklyn Heights).

When the bridge opened to the public in 1883, in a dedication ceremony presided over by President Chester A. Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland, Emily Warren Roebling was given the first ride across the bridge. Any pedestrian with a penny for the toll was welcomed to follow (an estimated 250,000 people walked across the bridge in the first 24 hours); horses and riders were charged 5 cents, and it was 10 cents for horse and wagons. (The pedestrian toll was repealed by 1891, along with the roadways toll in 1911—the bridge crossing has remained free ever since.)

Unfortunately, another tragedy unfolded just six days after the Brooklyn Bridge's opening, when 12 people were trampled to death in the midst of a stampede, incited by a panicked (false) rumor that the bridge was collapsing into the river. The following year, P. T. Barnum, of circus fame, led 21 elephants across the bridge in an attempt to quell public fears about its stability.

Brooklyn Bridge by Numbers

The Brooklyn Bridge's construction took 14 years and some 600 workers to complete. The project was finished at a cost of about $15 million. The bridge's main span over the East River measures 1,596 feet; its entire length, including approaches, is 6,016 feet (just over 1.1 miles). It measures a width of 85 feet; the height of its towers reach 276 feet; and the clearance below the bridge is 135 feet. Its four massive main suspension cables each contain 5,434 individual steel wires.

How to Cross the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan

Traversing the bridge is an essential rite of passage for anybody who sets foot in New York City. Read up on everything you need to know about crossing the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan.

Tips for Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Make the most of your walk across the iconic walkway with these 9 smart tips.

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