The Brooklyn Bridge was constructed to span the East River between the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Before the bridge was built, the only way to cross the East River was by ferry, which could be difficult and treacherous in the winter.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a bridge of many firsts. It was the first traffic route between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the first long-span suspension bridge to carry motor vehicles, and the first suspension bridge to use galvanized steel wire.
It is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States.
The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by John Roebling, a German-born engineer. Before construction began, he was conducting a survey of the site from a wharf when a boat collided into the wharf, crushing his foot. Three weeks later, John Roebling died of tetanus.
His work was continued by his son, Washington Roebling, whose health also suffered from working on the bridge. Washington became ill from decompression sickness, or caisson disease, from working long hours at high atmospheric pressure. This condition, little known at the time, afflicted many of the bridge workers who labored inside the underwater caissons (large watertight structures that provide a dry environment for working on bridge pier foundations). Because of the illness, he became partially paralyzed and could only supervise through binoculars from his balcony.
When Washington Roebling could no longer visit the site, his wife Emily Roebling took over for him. She effectively oversaw the completion of the bridge through developing a knowledge of engineering, inspecting the site, and reporting progress to her husband.
When the Mayor of Brooklyn wanted to replace Washington in 1882 because of his sickness, Emily addressed the American Society of Civil Engineers - the first woman to ever do so. Because of her appeal, the ASCE allowed Washington to remain as Chief Engineer.