[May 24, 2017] In the U.S. Civil War lives were shattered, families split apart, and property destroyed in one of the bloodiest wars of the century. It is also the beginning of the story of the Brooklyn Bridge which was opened on this date, May 24, 1883. It begins with a most important leader trait; vision, the ability to “see” what should be done.
On the peak of Little Round Top, located at the end of a ridge south of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small man by the name of Washington A. Roebling stood and observed the first of the Confederate army advancing northward and put into place a strong point defense that was to protect one of the most well-known geographic locations in America. Due to Roebling’s self-discipline to stand his ground despite the advancing Confederate forces, he helped secure the crucial left flank of General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac. More can be found on Roebling’s war service here (see link).
Roebling’s success in battle steeled him for his later career as a civil engineer. Initially assisting his father on the “Eighth Wonder of the World” … the Brooklyn Bridge was completed under Washington Roebling’s leadership. After the death of his father, Washington Roebling would become the chief engineer for the project that would become the first steel suspension bridge ever built. It would span the East River between New York and Brooklyn.
The dream of spanning the East River to connect two of the largest cities in the United States at the time might have seemed obvious; it wasn’t obvious. The practical problems and lack of technological advances in engineering prohibited from being attempted. Anyone speaking of it was considered a heretic or mentally unstable. The advantages of a bridge were obvious to Washington and his father John Roebling. To convince others of the feasibility of such a suspension bridge was difficult.
Such a bridge would have to be the largest bridge ever built, nearly twice the length of any other bridge at the time. This was solved by Roebling through the use of steel cables which remain an iconic part of the design. It took great foresight, innovation, and vision for the Roebling family of engineers to put it into place. There was considerable resistance to the idea and some prominent politicians and engineers predicted that the bridge would collapse.
The bridge construction was controversial beyond safety concerns. There were stories of political payoffs and corruption, rumors of carpet bags stuffed with cash being given to characters like Boss Tweed, the leader of the political machine known as Tammany Hall.1 In one famous case, a shady contractor, J. Lloyd Haigh, sold inferior steel wire to Roebling.
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge stands as an icon to the persistence and vision of the Roebling family. The bridge changed the course of New York City forever.
[Don’t forget to “Like” the Leader Maker at our Facebook Page.]