Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday: Brooklyn Bridge turns 127

Anyone who knows me personally, understands that I have this overwhelming fascination with facts that most people think are utterly useless.

Let's face it - it's a great trait to have at parties.

For example, when you're drinking your Iced Coffee and you suck on the straw, it is not the sucking motion itself that brings the delicious nectar of the Gods to your lips. Rather, you've created a vacuum and the atmospheric pressure outside of that vacuum pushes the liquid up to your lips.

[Right now - I know that while reading this, my better half is giving me the "here he goes again ... but, I love him" face.]

Here's the situation ... I'm just going to be perfectly frank with you. I have fully geeked out this morning and here's why: On this date in 1883, America's oldest suspension bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, had it's opening ceremonies. The opening came after a 14 year construction period which was headed by an engineer who couldn't leave his apartment... more on that later.

Geeks of the world, fasten your seatbelts.

According to PBS's Wonders of the World databank, here are the bridge's vital statistics:
Location: Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, USA
Completion Date: 1883
Cost: $18 million
Length: 3,460 feet
Type: Suspension
Materials: Steel, granite
Longest Single Span: 1,595 feet, 6 inches
Engineer(s): John A. Roebling, Washington A. Roebling

Considered a brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge was a bridge of many firsts. It was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire. It was the first bridge to use explosives in a dangerous underwater device called a caisson. At the time it was built, the 3,460-foot Brooklyn Bridge was also crowned the longest suspension bridge in the world.

But the Brooklyn Bridge was plagued with its share of problems. Before construction even began, the bridge's chief engineer, John A. Roebling, died from tetanus. The project was taken over and seen to its completion by his son, Washington Roebling. Three years later, Roebling developed a crippling illness called caisson's disease, known today as "the bends." Bedridden but determined to stay in charge, Roebling used a telescope to keep watch over the bridge's progress. He dictated instructions to his wife, Emily, who passed on his orders to the workers. During this time, an unexpected blast wrecked one caisson, a fire damaged another, and a cable snapped from its anchorage and crashed into the river.

Despite these problems, construction continued at a feverish pace. By 1883, 14 years after it began, Roebling successfully guided the completion of one of the most famous bridges in the world -- without ever leaving his apartment.

Fast Facts:

* Although he was physically able to leave his apartment, Washington Roebling refused to attend the opening celebration honoring his remarkable achievement.

* The bridge opened to the public on May 24, 1883, at 2:00 p.m. A total of 150,300 people crossed the bridge on opening day. Each person was charged one cent to cross.

* The bridge opened to vehicles on May 24, 1883, at 5:00 p.m. A total of 1,800 vehicles crossed on the first day. Vehicles were charged five cents to cross.

* Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is the second busiest bridge in New York City. One hundred forty-four thousand vehicles cross the bridge every day.
Anyone else feeling warm, fuzzy and drunk from the open bar of facts? Wait. It's just me? Damn.

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