Wire Rope Exchange Feature Article: Washington A. Roebling, the Civil War, and building Brooklyn Bridge

In [John Roebling’s] plans for the 1,600-ft. span Brooklyn Bridge, John specified the use of steel wire for the first time in a major suspension bridge. While he and Washington were inspecting the site for the Brooklyn tower in June 1869, a ferry boat unexpectedly slammed into the slip where they were standing, crushing John’s foot, and he died a horrible death ten days later from tetanus. As Washington recalled years later,

Hardened as I was by the scenes of many a bloody battlefield, these horrors often overcame me. When he finally died one morning at sunrise, I was nearly dead myself from exhaustion…

After a week I had become sufficiently composed to take a sober look at my situation. Here I was at the age of 32 put in charge of the most stupendous engineering structure of the age.

The prop on which I had hitherto leaned had fallen; henceforth I must rely on myself…
At first I thought I would succumb, but I had a strong tower to lean upon, my wife, a woman of infinite tact and wisest council.

Washington soon had to lean extensively on [his wife] Emily, as he became partially disabled after spending too much time in the caissons for the tower foundations. He and many of the workers suffered, and several died, from what we now know as the bends, or nitrogen narcosis, which results from returning too quickly to the surface from underwater compression….To read the entire article, visit The October 2013 Wire Rope Exchange.

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