Suspension Bridges: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tammie Mihet

Tammie has taught elementary school for 14 yrs. and holds an MA in Instructional Technology

It is an amazing experience to ride across a bridge suspended in the air! Why doesn't the road collapse to the ground? In the lesson discover the unique balancing act that holds a suspension bridge together.

Suspended in the Air

Many people doubted it could ever be built. Despite these doubters, on January 3, 1933 construction began on what was to become the longest of its kind! During its four years of building, eleven workers lost their lives as they contended with high winds and strong ocean currents. What was this amazing feat of engineering? The Golden Gate Bridge - a 4,200-foot suspension bridge that spans across the San Francisco Bay in California.

Golden Gate Bridge
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How could a bridge that long be built as if it were suspended in the air and not fall to the ground in a heap of twisted metal? The secret lies in its construction.

It's All in the Support

To understand how a suspension bridge works, let's first think about something you are probably very familiar with: a swing. When you sit on a swing, are you suspended in the air? Yes. So what's carrying your weight so that you don't fall to the ground? All of your weight is being supported by the chains that are connected to the seat. If you travel with your eyes up the chains, you will see that the chains are connected to a pole. These poles also work to take some of the weight off the chains and allow you to enjoy the fun of swinging suspended in the air without falling on your rumpus!

A suspension bridge works just like this, but on a much bigger scale.

Holding It All Together

The area that takes all the weight on a suspension bridge is called the deck, or the roadway. In a swing, the deck could be thought of as the seat that is taking all of your weight. Just like a swing, the deck is attached to cables, called suspenders. They run up vertically, and the longer the bridge the more suspenders are used. The suspenders are then attached to larger horizontal cables, the main support cables, which are usually attached to two large towers, one on each side of the bridge. The horizontal cables then continue to stretch out past the towers, and are anchored on both sides of the bridge to either solid rock or concrete block.

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