Persistence: The Brooklyn Bridge

By | October 25, 2013

[October 25, 2013]  As children we used to tease each other occasionally by telling our friends we had a real “good deal” for them.  We would sell them a bridge … called the Brooklyn Bridge … at a great price.  This teasing game likely came about in the 1800s when the bridge was associated with some political corruption. 

Fast forward to today.  The average New Yorker knows very little about or even cares about the history of this bridge but their life is made better by what happened 130 years ago in this tale of persistence.  The bridge today spans the “East River” between Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York. 

The gripping story of the bridge design and construction and the monumental social, political, and engineer challenges that are part of its history, is not well known.  Taking 14 years of construction to complete, the odds of it being built seemed overwhelming.  Opening on May 24, 1883, the world took notice of a great accomplishment of mankind. 

The story of “The Great Bridge” is also about the remarkable engineering family, the Roeblings.  Robert’s vision and his son Washington’s skill, persistence, and courage were instrumental in what happened.  But also Washington’s wife Emily who trained herself as an engineer to help her caissons’ disease” debilitated and bedridden husband finish the last 10 years of construction is another remarkable story. 

“Thousands of people were put to work. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, notorious political empires fell, and surges of public doubt constantly threatened the project. The Brooklyn Bridge is not just the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time, replete with heroes and rascals who helped either to construct or to exploit the great enterprise.”  – David McCullough1 

Construction of the bridge was immensely controversial and not because people believed it would likely to fall into the river.  It was built in one of the busiest waterways in the world, doubling in costs, a new construction design with suspension cables, and inferior wire to name a few obstacles. 

Through it all, Robert, Washington, and Emily Roebling, the “sand hogs”, and other construction workers labored long and hard to see the joining of two large cities.  Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is easily the most recognizable bridge due to its design.  A true story and great example of persistence. 


[1]  David McCullough. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.  1972.



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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