Brooklyn Bridge Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

Why did 21 elephants cross the Brooklyn Bridge? It wasn't just to get to the other side. Find out the real reason in this lesson about the Brooklyn Bridge, an amazing work of engineering and a New York landmark.

Why Did They Build the Brooklyn Bridge?

Brooklyn is on one side of the East River and the city of New York City (Manhattan) is on the other. In the late 1800s, the only way to get from one to the other was on a ferryboat. With both cities growing, they needed a bridge to connect the two.

Building the Brooklyn Bridge

How do you build an enormous bridge to cross over a major river and make sure it can stand up to all weather conditions and lots and lots of traffic? It's not easy! John A. Roebling was an immigrant from Germany and an engineer. He figured out a better way to build a suspension bridge, which is a bridge with cables connecting towers. He made the plans for the Brooklyn Bridge, but he died from a disease called tetanus, which he got in an accident when planning the bridge.

Washington Roebling, John's son, headed up the project next. When we look at the bridge today we see the amazing towers and the steel cables, but an incredible structure is under the water too.

Building the bridge was very dangerous and hard work. Roebling and his crew would go underwater in special containers to build the towers, but they could become very sick afterwards. This is what happened to Washington Roebling and many others. In 1872, Roebling left the construction site because he was too sick, but he kept supervising from his house nearby with a telescope. His wife, Emily, brought messages back and forth between him and the construction crew.

Opening the Bridge

Finally, on May 24, 1883, thirteen years after the project started, the Brooklyn Bridge opened. It was also called the Great East River Bridge. The President of the United States, Chester Arthur, and Emily Roebling were there to help celebrate. Thousands of people came to see the 1,595-foot-long bridge.

And it was a huge accomplishment. The granite towers were taller than any building around, and the steel cables were a sight. In 1883, it was the biggest suspension bridge ever built. About a week later, people started running in a panic because they were afraid the crowded bridge was falling down. It wasn't. The next year, P.T. Barnum from the circus took 21 elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge to show people how strong it was. Imagine looking out of your window and seeing that!

The Brooklyn Bridge in 1892
Brooklyn Bridge in 1892

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