The Brooklyn Bridge has been an indelible part of the New York City skyline for nearly 140 years. When it was completed in 1883, it was hailed as an engineering marvel and called the eighth Wonder of the World. It also linked what were then two of America’s largest cities — New York and Brooklyn.
On a May night in 1983, more than a million people gathered along the East River in New York City to say Happy 100th Birthday to the Brooklyn Bridge. The celebration included parades, street fairs and one of the biggest fireworks displays the city had ever seen.
In the crowd that day was historian Jeff Richman. The mega-party touched off a passion in him for the bridge that’s lasted for decades.
“I was on top of the Eagle Warehouse over here. And it was spectacular. And so, I collected an original invitation to the opening of the bridge. And woodcuts, prints, drawings,” Richman recalled.
That collection is the foundation of his new book, “Building the Brooklyn Bridge: 1869 – 1883.” It uses more than 250 images including stereo views: A 19th-century version of 3D that gives readers a never-before-seen view of the bridge. Some consider the harrowing and triumphant tale of how hundreds of engineers and craftsmen worked underwater and high above the river to complete the construction a miracle.
“The bridge was very much cutting edge in so many of its aspects,” Richman told CBS News’ Michelle Miller.
John Roebling, who was well known for building suspension bridges in other parts of the country, died following an accident while surveying the site before work even started. His 32-year-old son, Washington Roebling took over the job but was himself physically unable to supervise the work. He used a telescope to watch the construction.
The job of conveying Roebling’s ideas to the workers was left to his wife, Emily, who became an essential part of the development.
“[She] certainly, you know, didn’t have an opportunity to study as an engineer, but became this key liaison with contractors, with the assistant engineers, to be able to go out there, and even reached a point where she was consulting, contractors were contacting her and her alone and asking about specifications and the demands of the contracts,” Richman said.
But the work has never really finished on or around the bridge in the nearly 140 years since it opened. Horses and carriages have been replaced by an early cable car, followed by a thoroughfare that carries more than 115,000 cars a day, and even a new bike lane to serve the 3,000 cyclists who cross the river on daily basis.
Those changes also include 85 acres of former industrial space that has been transformed over the last decade into the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“It is such an iconic piece of New York City and beyond. And we right now are in the last phase of park construction, which is a two-acre area that directly connects the DUMBO section of the park here to the southern piers,” said Eric Landau, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation said.
That last section of the park is set to be unveiled next month and will be named after Emily Roebling.
“The idea did not originate with us to name it after Emily Warren Robeling. That actually came from the community. But we thought it was such an amazing opportunity,” said Landau.
Richman said the bridge not only spans two boroughs, but three centuries of incredible history.
“The energy that you get up here as you shout above the traffic going by and the bicycles going by and the pedestrians going by and this is one of … human kind’s great creations, and to be able to enjoy it and stand under the towers and under the cables and the suspenders, it’s just wonderful,” said Richman.