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Verrazano Bridge: History & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

New York is full of bridges, and lucky for us, they're all full of history. In this lesson, we'll check out the Verrazano Bridge and explore the stories behind it.

The Verrazano Bridge

For a long time, the harbor of New York has been one of the most symbolically important entrance points into the United States. We even stuck a giant statue there welcoming people to our shores (it's called the Statue of Liberty; you may have heard of it). Still, the harbor was missing something, and in the 1950s the city of New York set out to give the harbor the grand gateway it deserved. That gateway is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, stretching the mile-long distance of the Narrows, the channel separating Staten Island and Brooklyn. Welcome to America.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
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History and Design

In the 1950s, New York began envisioning a bridge that could connect two of its most important boroughs. It would be the last major public works project of the era, and for it the city hired structural engineer Othmar Ammann and urban planner Robert Moses. With decades of experience between them, Moses and Ammann had each already contributed heavily to transportation and public life in New York City.

Along with their head engineers, Ammann and Moses soon had a design prepared. The plan was to create a suspension bridge, in which the load-bearing portion of the bridge is hung (or suspended) from cables stretching between columns or towers. This efficiently distributes the weight of the bridge over long distances without greatly increasing the weight of the bridge. This system is so effective that the new bridge was designed to be double-layered (as are the other major bridges of New York City), allowing for additional lanes for traffic. Ammann and Moses decided to name their bridge after Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano (with 2 z's, unlike the bridge, which was misspelled), who in 1524 was the first European to sail into the Hudson River.

As with all major projects, there was some controversy in the design. Moses's plans placed the edge of the bridge in an existing neighborhood in Brooklyn, which would have to be demolished. Part of a historical structure from the War of 1812, Fort Lafayette, also had to be destroyed. It wasn't the first time that one of Moses's projects resulted in the destruction of existing homes or structures, which makes him a somewhat controversial figure. However, in the end the people of the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn were forced to move, and in 1959 construction on the Verrazano Bridge began.

Construction and Legacy

By this point suspension bridges were pretty commonplace, but the construction of the Verrazano Bridge was still a major undertaking. Roughly 10,000 men were employed in the building of the structure, which involved crossing sky-high cables like tightropes, securing the steel beams of the towers. Three men died in the process, a reminder of the risks always associated with such monumental construction, and this was a monumental construction. In fact, the towers are so tall and the bridge was so long that the architects actually had to account for the curvature of the Earth when planning it. As a result, the tops of each tower are almost two inches further apart from each other than their bases.

The Verrazano Bridge took ten years to fully complete
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