The Brooklyn Bridge is not only the first great suspension bridge built in the world and a must-see place for visitors when traveling to New York City but also an iconic work of human belief, effort, and love.
In 1883, the idea of building a spectacular Brooklyn bridge to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan across the East River in New York City was rekindled by the talented, creative German civil engineer John Augustus Roebling. However, at the time John Roebling faced sharp criticism from other experts and builders.
Experts in bridge-building believed that this was an impossible and infeasible task. They predicted that even if the bridge was built, it would soon collapse into the East River. Moreover, a suspension bridge of such great length had never been built before so they advised Roebling to give it up on his plans for the project. Despite that, Roebling held on to his dream of the bridge. He thought about it all the time, and from the bottom of his heart, he knew it could be done.
One day during a freezing boat ride across the East River, Roebling shared his ideas with his son Washington, himself a talented engineer and his best friend. After a long discussion and eager persuasion, Washington finally supported his father’s idea and together they started to design the bridge. With inspiration and passion, John set about designing the bridge, putting all of his knowledge and experience into the design of this life-long project. He studied countless options for the optimum design for the bridge and calculated the anticipated difficulties and obstacles that he might face during the construction process.
He was also one of the pioneers in utilizing steel cables in strengthening the construction of suspension bridges. However, a sudden accident took the life of Roebling while he was supervising preliminary construction operations at the site of the Brooklyn tower. His foot was injured, which later caused him to contract Tetanus, leading to his eventual death on July 22nd, 1869 at the age of 63.
Washington Augustus Roebling, his eldest son, and the closest consultant was determined to fulfill his father’s dream. He was chosen to be the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge after his father’s untimely death. Unfortunately, just a few years later, he was paralyzed by decompression sickness after entering a caisson. Despite his disability, Washington never gave up his work and refused to abandon his Father’s dream. Inside his heart was a burning desire to bring the bridge to its final completion, his mind was more determined than ever.
The scene of the bright sunshine and green trees from outside the window of his hospital bed ignited hope in him and seemingly encouraged him not to give up.
Luckily an idea flashed through his mind. All he could do was to move a finger and so he decided to make the best of it. By this move, he slowly developed a means of communication with his wife. He touched his wife’s arm, trying to tell her that he wanted to call the engineers over again. He then tapped her arm with his finger to tell the engineers what to do. It sounds unbelievable, but that was the way he resumed his construction management for the project.
For 13 years, Washington signaled his instructions with his finger on his wife’s arm, until the bridge was completed. The Brooklyn Bridge became the first great suspension bridge in the United States that had cables formed from parallel steel wires that were spun into place.
Today, it stands in all its glory as a triumph of a man, indomitable spirit and determination not to be defeated by any circumstances. It is also a tribute to the Roeblings, their fellow engineers and their dream and self-belief. It is also a monument to the love and devotion of a wife patiently deciphering her husband’s messages for over 13 years.
We all have dreams in life, but few of us have the strong will and determination to see our dreams through to volition. There will always be occasions where we face difficulties in life and it is often all too easy to allow these hurdles to stop us from realizing our dreams. Striving for our dreams is however a part of what makes us human. Without them where would we be? Perhaps without some of the most prolific engineering feats of the modern world.