Arch Bridge Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Arch bridges are some of the most beautiful bridges in the world. Come and learn about what arch bridges are, their history, real world examples and pros and cons of this bridge type.

What is an Arch Bridge?

Bridges provide a very important function in allowing easy transport over a body of water, and they look good doing it! While there are several types of bridges, one of the oldest is the arch bridge.

Bridges need to be able to support the weight, also called the load, of the objects (people, cars, trucks, etc.) on it. Therefore, the structure underneath the bridge needs to be able to get the job done. The underside of bridges looks different when you are comparing different types, and the arch bridge has perhaps one of the most architecturally distinctive undersides. You see, arch bridges have a curved underside. It looks like someone cut a semicircle out of the bottom of the bridge.

What?! Who wants to walk across a bridge with a semicircle cut out of it? Actually, the arch is what makes the bridge strong. The arch allows the load to spread out instead of pushing straight down. The load spreads out to the abutments, which are supports on the ground at both ends, which keeps the ends of the arch bridge from breaking apart. The curved design and abutments allow the entire bridge to carry the load.


History of Arch Bridges

People have been building arch bridges for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, built arch bridges. Many of them were built with stones or concrete and were some of the first early bridges that were able to survive floods and storms. China has also been constructing arch bridges for many years. They built the Zhaozhou Bridge in 605 AD, and it is still around today! Modern arch bridges use materials such as concrete, steel and iron.

An Ancient Roman arch bridge

Real World Examples of Arch Bridges

There are arch bridges all over the world. Some are big and bold, while others are understated and small. Here are just a few of some of the most noteworthy arch bridges:

  • Chaotianmen Bridge: Located in China; the longest steel arch in the world - the arch spans 1,811 feet
  • New River Gorge Bridge: Located in West Virginia; the longest and largest steel arch bridge in the United States - the arch spans 1,700 feet and is 876 feet above the New River
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge: Located in Australia; the 'Coathanger' is its nickname

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