130th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge

May 24, 2013
Today marks the 130th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge! As many of you know, Scholastic Headquarters is located in downtown Manhattan so many of my colleagues bike and drive over the Brooklyn Bridge everyday. To celebrate this magnificent structure we thought it would be neat to highlight facts and handy hints featured in the book, You Wouldn’t Want to Work on the Brooklyn Bridge! by Tom Ratliff. For starters did you know the Brooklyn Bridge extends across the East River, connecting the cities of Brooklyn and New York? But how do you build a bridge in water you ask? By using “caissons” of course! Did you know a “caisson” is a waterproof chamber used by people working underwater? The bridge towers rest on bedrock—solid rock that is part of earth’s crust—deep below the riverbed. A caisson is a huge waterproof box of wood and iron that is open at the bottom. The caisson is sunk to the riverbed, and then compressed air is pumped in, which forces the water out. Workman enter and exit through airlocks. What about the cables that connect the towers? The Brooklyn Bridge uses steel wires for the cables, because it’s more durable than iron and it makes the bridge stronger and safer. The Brooklyn Bridge was not an easy task to build! Because the work was tedious and backbreaking, digging was all done by hand using picks and shovels, some weeks at least 100 men would quit—even though they were paid well ($2.00 a day). Dealing with decompression. In addition to exhausting tasks, workers also suffered from decompression sickness. Decompression sickness occurs when there is a change in air pressure. Moving too quickly from high pressure inside the caisson to the lower pressure on the surface caused tiny bubbles of nitrogen gas to form in the blood, causing painful symptoms in many workers. The bridge opens! The Brooklyn Bridge opened at 2:00pm on Friday, May 24, 1883. Thousands of people lined up to walk across the bridge as part of the opening ceremony, and about 150,000 people paid a penny each to cross the bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge today. Originally, the roadway was divided into five sections: two for road vehicles, two for trains and an elevated walkway in the middle for pedestrians. Today 144,000 cars and trucks, 2,500 pedestrians, and 2,000 bikes cross the Brooklyn Bridge each day—but no trains.