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Street Honors Woman Who Helped Build Brooklyn Bridge

Monday, June 11, 2018

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Emily Warren Roebling, the woman who oversaw the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, was honored in late May when a nearby street was christened with her name to commemorate her efforts.

When Roebling’s husband, chief bridge engineer Washington A. Roebling, fell ill and became bedridden, she effectively became his eyes and ears onsite, negotiating supply materials, contracts and acting as liaison to the board of trustees.

Honoring the Past

Washington Roebling succeeded his father, bridge designer John Roebling, in managing the bridge project. John passed away, and Washington fell ill to caisson disease, or depressurization sickness, related to the chambers used in the underwater construction of the bridge’s supports.

User:Postdlf., CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge, and had the longest span in the world at the time: 1,600 feet from tower to tower.

As her husband’s health declined, Emily spent 14 years overseeing the day-to-day demands of bridge construction, effectively receiving an engineering education as she related the details to her husband. Emily became known for her exemplary diplomatic skills in dealing with competing parties, including the mayor of Brooklyn, who tried to have her husband ousted from the project.

“All along, he is present,” said Erica Wagner, the author of Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge. “But he is not able to go to the bridge, and he’s not able to see anyone. But amazingly, he holds this extraordinary structure in his head. And she is able to help him transmit his thoughts.”

When the span opened in 1883, Emily was the first person to walk across, and, according to some, carried a rooster with her for good luck.

Brooklyn Museum, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Emily Warren Roebling, the woman who oversaw the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, was honored in late May when a nearby street was christened with her name to commemorate her efforts.

Later in her life, Emily served a number of women’s social organizations and authored the essay A Wife’s Disabilities, which expressed her views on greater rights for women and decried discrimination against them.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge, and had the longest span in the world at the time: 1,600 feet from tower to tower. In total, the bridge took 14 years and 600 workers to build and cost $15 million (more than $320 million today, adjusted for inflation). The bridge is now 135 years old and still carries roughly 150,000 vehicles and pedestrians daily.

At the ceremony honoring Emily, Council Member Stephen Levin noted that Emily “continues to lead the way today.”

“Though her circumstances are unique, Emily fought to prove that talents and ability are not the exclusive domain of one gender. Her story, one of determination, ambition and intellect is one we are fortunate to have. But there are countless of other overlooked stories we will never know. The same way Emily fought for equality in the 19th century, we must continue to fight today. This commemoration is one symbolic step to show we will continue the work Emily Warren Roebling started."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Historic Structures; Infrastructure; Project Management

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