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11 Structures that Define America

Brooklyn Bridge

Every day, thousands of commuters cross the East River via the Brooklyn Bridge. And they have John A. Roebling and his son, Washington, to thank. In 1867, the elder Roebling was hired as chief engineer to build "the greatest bridge in existence." But he died in 1869 before construction began. His son, Washington, stepped in and construction finally began on the 5,989-foot-long structure in January 1870. The 85-foot-wide bridge was the first steel wire suspension bridge and the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time. On May 24, 1883, the bridge opened to the public, carrying pedestrians, livestock, horse-drawn vehicles, and trolley cars between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The pedestrian toll that day was a penny but was raised to three cents the next morning. Today, the bridge carries upwards of 144,000 vehicles a day in six lanes of traffic. About 2,000 pedestrians and hundreds of bicyclists also cross the bridge's 1.14 miles each workday.