When it comes to historic bridges in the world, it does not get much better than the Brooklyn Bridge of New York City. The bridge connects the two boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and serves millions of people each year.
Opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has a rich and fascinating history. From its long 14-year construction to its one of kind pedestrian walking path, there is much to learn about the bridge.
This guide will go over 10 Brooklyn Bridge facts that are sure to give you some more insight into what this bridge is all about.
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A Brooklyn Bridge History
Before diving into the 10 facts about the Brooklyn Bridge, I did want to give a quick overview regarding the history of the bridge.
Throughout the early years of New York City, there were no bridges, subways, or tunnels connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. Everything had to be taken across by ferry – whether that be goods, food, or people.
To solve this issue and to make the area better connected, a man named John Augustus Roebling came up with a design for a suspension bridge that would make its way over the East River.
Roebling was one of the pioneers in the suspension bridge category. After emigrating from Germany and taking up civil engineering, he successfully designed bridges around Niagara Falls and the Ohio River.
New York took notice and approved of his plan to build what we now know as the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time of construction, the Brooklyn Bridge would be the longest suspension bridge in the world!
10 Mind Blowing Brooklyn Bridge Facts
Most people visiting (or living in) New York who see the Brooklyn Bridge, have no background about what this historical bridge is all about.
After living in New York City myself for the last 10+ years, I did not even realize how major of an accomplishment the Brooklyn Bridge was at the time. Since then though, I have continuously learned more and more about the bridge (and visited it plenty).
Now, it is time to share some of these fascinating Brooklyn Bridge facts with you. Some of these facts will be about its initial construction and opening, while others will touch more upon modern-day aspects of the bridge.
1) The Roebling Family Tragedies
After the bridge’s design was approved in 1867, John Augustus Roebling worked on finalizing its plans before construction would begin in 1869.
However, just before construction began, Roebling was injured while doing some last-minute measurements in the East River. His foot got crushed by an oncoming boat and just a few weeks later he died of tetanus.
To continue John’s work, his son Washington Roebling took over where John left off. While young, Washington did have much experience with building and designing bridges along with his father.
During the bridge’s construction, Washington along with many workers would spend time in caissons (large watertight chambers so underwater work could be completed). These chambers caused many workers including Washington to develop decompression sickness.
This adversely affected Washington so much that he could no longer work on a day to day basis on the bridge. Due to his sickness, he was subject to his nearby Brooklyn apartment.
From there, his wife Emily would oversee the day to day construction of the bridge – a historic achievement for a woman at the time. It was said that Washington would use a telescope from his apartment to keep up to date with construction and give notes to his wife regarding his thoughts.
Today, you will find the newly constructed Emily Warren Roebling plaza underneath the Brooklyn side of the bridge. Here you can read more about her history and spend some time taking in the views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline in the distance.
2) A Construction with Many Setbacks
From start to finish, the Brooklyn Bridge construction took 14 years to complete (1869 – 1883). Due to the complexity of the bridge and the various unknowns, there were several setbacks that caused this longer than anticipated construction.
In 1870, about a year into the construction, there was a fire on one of the caissons. This fire would be known as the Great Blowout and delayed the construction for 3 months until the caisson was repaired.
There was also a lot of disagreement and controversy over what wires should be used for the bridge’s completion. In 1878, as the wires were being put in place, one of the wires fell off and killed two workers.
In addition, other setbacks included a compressed air explosion, additional steel wire replacements, and many workers no longer working due to decompression sickness.
Altogether, there were more than 20 people who eventually died during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
These occurred due to a variety of reasons due to falls, decompression sickness, falling rocks, among a host of other reasons.
3) The Longest Suspension Bridge in the World
During the time of construction, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the entire world. The main span of the bridge is 1,595 feet, while the bridge in its entirety runs 6,016 feet.
It did not take long though for the record to be broken. In 1903, the nearby Williamsburg Bridge took hold of that accolade. At 1,600 feet long, it beat out the Brooklyn Bridge by just 5 feet!
For the next 21 years, these two bridges over the East River stood as the longest two suspension bridges in the world. It wasn’t until 1924 that the Bear Mountain Bridge took the record from the East River.
Another fun fact about the Brooklyn Bridge – at its completion, it was also the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere!
4) It Wasn’t Always Called the Brooklyn Bridge
Although, we now know this bridge to be the “Brooklyn Bridge”, that was not always the case.
During the construction of the bridge, it was known as the “Great East River Bridge” as well as the “Great East River Suspension Bridge”.
However, once it opened in 1883, the official name that it was given was the “New York and Brooklyn Bridge”.
It wasn’t until 1915, that the name was then officially shortened to just the Brooklyn Bridge, and what we refer to it as today.
5) The Opening of the Bridge
On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was officially opened for the public. This was no ordinary bridge opening though. Remember, at the time this was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
Due to its importance, even the president if the United States, Chester A. Arthur, made an appearance at the ceremony.
Since Emily Roebling played such a large role in the bridge’s completion, she was awarded with the first official ride over the bridge with a rooster in her lap (known to be a symbol of victory).
During its first 24 hours of opening, there was an estimated 250,000 people who walked across the pedestrian pathway – a journey that was a first of its kind.
Today, thousands of tourists and locals make that same journey across the bridge admiring a whole new type of skyline on both sides.
The pathway lays in the center of the bridge, elevated from the car lanes down below. This gives visitors the chance to walk along the middle of the bridge, under its jaw dropping cable wires and two towers.
→ Learn more about a Brooklyn Bridge walk to enjoy the experience on your own
6) A Worry of Collapse
Given it was truly a first of a kind bridge at the time, many were wary that such a bridge could collapse given the amount of traffic that would be making its way across in both directions.
It did not take long for that worry to take shape. Just 6 days after opening, there was a massive stampede that took place on May 30th 1883.
The story goes that a woman tripped while on a staircase near the Manhattan side of the bridge. As the woman fell to the ground, others began to panic and scream.
This is turn caused mass confusion and alarm, as people started rushing towards the narrow staircase exit. While some workers were quick to react and cut through some fencing to allow people to escape, there were 12 people that died that day in addition to another 35 people wounded.
7) The Elephants Showed Up
While the bridge did not collapse, that did not stop circus showman P.T. Barnum to demonstrate the bridge’s strength.
City officials were keen on putting people’s minds at ease about this newly constructed bridge and had asked P.T. Barnum to do just that.
So, on May 17, 1884 (just about a year after opening), Barnum brought along 21 elephants and 17 camels to walk the length of the bridge. Now, of course this was more of just a publicity event since the bridge is really able to handle over 100 times that weight.
But from then on, all has been well on the Brooklyn Bridge.
8) Hidden Wine Cellars
When you think of bridges, you don’t necessarily think of wine cellars. However, when it comes to the Brooklyn Bridge, there actually is some overlap.
During the construction phase of the bridge, John and Washington came up with the idea to include a wine cellar on either side of the bridge. These would then be rented out to local wine & liquor businesses to help generate income for the project.
For the next 40 years or so, that is exactly what ended up happening as various businesses rented out the cellars on either side. However, then came the thought of prohibition, and these wine cellars in turn were used for newspaper storage instead.
After prohibition ended, the wine cellars opened back up for business but it was then in the mid 1940’s that the city of New York would take hold of the property.
9) It Used to be More Expensive to Cross
During the first days of the Brooklyn Bridge, there was a whole price list of tolls to consider when making your way across.
By Foot: 1 Cent
Horse & Rider: 5 Cents
Horse & Wagon: 10 Cents
In the year 1891, the pedestrian tolls were removed followed by the rest of them in 1911. Today, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, (and even horses I guess) can make their way across the bridge for free.
Over the years there was much controversy about removing tolls on the bridge (in addition to the Manhattan Bridge & Williamsburg Bridge). Billions of dollars of potential income for the city was lost and the structural integrity of the bridges had come into question.
But today, you can head over the Brooklyn Bridge and the other East River bridges all for free.
10) How to Experience the Brooklyn Bridge
So, by now you certainly have gained some more insight about the bridge’s history along with many interesting Brooklyn Bridge facts.
I am sure though that you want to experience the bridge for yourself during a visit to New York. Luckily, there are several different ways to go about a Brooklyn Bridge experience.
Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge
The main way to experience the bridge is to actually walk across it – just as people did back in 1883. On either side of the bridge you will find pedestrian entrances that take you up onto the elevated walkway.
Once on the walkway, you can make your way across the bridge, under the cables and columns, with unparalleled views of the NYC skyline.
In 2021, the city moved the bicycle lane away from pedestrian pathway for safety reasons. So, while you cannot bicycle across the main pathway, you can bicycle in a newly established lane.
Next to the cars on the lower level, they have blocked off a car lane and turned it into a two way bicycle lane. This is great for all those that want to experience the bridge without the worry of circumventing pedestrians.
Walk Along the Manhattan Bridge
Now, while a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is a must do activity, why not also head across the Manhattan Bridge.
While not as scenic of a bridge, the Manhattan Bridge walkway gives you the chance to see the Brooklyn Bridge from a distance. This viewpoint is one of my favorite in the city as you get the bridge, Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty all in view.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
You can also experience the Brooklyn Bridge by taking in the views from the riverside. All along the East River on the Brooklyn side of the bridge you will find Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Here you will get pathways, viewpoints, parks, and more to enjoy the view of the bridge. As mentioned earlier, you can also head directly underneath the bridge at Emily Warren Roebling Plaza.
East River Greenway
Finally, you can also take in the bridge from the opposite side of the river along the East River Greenway in Manhattan. The southern portion of the greenway has plenty of viewpoints of the Brooklyn Bridge to enjoy.
Some of the best spots are right around the South Street Seaport area, where you can enjoy some views from Pier 17.
I hope you enjoyed these 10 Brooklyn Bridge facts and are ready to visit the bridge for yourself. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below.
Also, don’t forget to check out the other New York itineraries and guides up on the site. Have fun out there and safe travels!