When New York City was consolidated in 1898, all the waterway bridges were placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Bridges. In just over a decade, the Department designed, constructed, and opened 19 bridges throughout the City. The four major bridges over the East River were constructed within four decades, from the start of construction on the Brooklyn Bridge in January 1870 to completion of the Manhattan Bridge in December 1909.
Arguably the most influential bridge in American history, the Brooklyn Bridge remains one of New York City’s most celebrated architectural wonders. Designed by the brilliant engineer John Augustus Roebling (1806-1869) and completed by his equally ingenious son Washington Roebling (1837-1926), this elegant structure was, at the time of its completion in 1883, the longest suspension bridge in the world.
Anchored across the lower East River by two neogothic towers and a delicate lacework of steel-wire cables, the soaring lines of the Brooklyn Bridge have inspired countless architects, engineers, painters and poets to pursue their own expressions of creative excellence, among them Frank Lloyd Wright, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman, Georgia O’Keefe, Joseph Stella, John Marin and Lewis Mumford.
Brooklyn Bridge facts
Construction Commenced – January 3, 1870
Opened to traffic – May 24, 1883
Total length – 6016 feet
Length of Main Span – 1595.5 feet
Length of each of the four cables – 3578.5 feet
The Williamsburg Bridge
Said to have been inspired by the works of the eminent French architect Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the landmark Williamsburg Bridge is the largest of the three suspension bridges that span the heavily-navigated East River .
A gargantuan structure noted for its 35-story steel towers and ponderous stiffening trusses, the Williamsburg Bridge boldly reaches from Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Designed by Leffert L. Buck and architecturally embellished by Henry Hornbostel, the bridge took seven years and $30 million to construct.
Upon its completion in 1903, it became the longest suspension bridge in the world, supplanting a record held by the Brooklyn Bridge for the previous two decades.
The first elevated train went into service on the bridge in 1905. Reconstruction of the North Roadways began in January 2001.
Williamsburg Bridge Facts
Construction commenced – November 7, 1896
Open to traffic – December 19, 1903
Total Length – 7308 feet
Length of the main span – 1600 feet
Length of each of the four cables – 2985 feet
The Manhattan Bridge
The last of the three great suspension bridges constructed across the East River, the Manhattan Bridge today is one of the most heavily traveled East River crossings.
During an average day, more than 78,000 vehicles and 350,000 people use the bridge’s six roadways and two subway tracks to pass between Canal Street in lower Manhattan and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Engineered by Leon Moisseiff (1872-1943) and fitted with a splendid set of approaches designed by the renowned architectural team of Carrere and Hastings, the Manhattan Bridge is one of the most aesthetically pleasing of New York City’s transportation structures.
Manhattan Bridge Facts
Construction commenced – October 1, 1901
Open to Traffic – December 31, 1909
Total length – 6855 feet
Length of main span – 1470 feet
Length of each of the four cables – 3224 feet
The Queensboro Bridge
Originally christened Blackwell’s Island Bridge, and intended to link Manhattan’s Harlem Line with the Long Island Railroad, the colossal, two-decked Queensboro Bridge is one of the greatest cantilever bridges in the history of American bridge design. A collaboration between the famed bridge engineer Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935) and architect Henry Hornbostel, the Queensboro’s massive, silver-painted trusses span the East River between 59th Street in Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens and offer spectacular views of midtown Manhattan, highlighted by the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the United Nations.
Often referred to as the 59th Street Bridge, the Queensboro’s completion preceded that of the Manhattan Bridge by nine months. The bridge has been immortalized by numerous artists and musicians, including Simon & Garfunkel in their hit song, “The 59th Street Bridge Song/Feelin’ Groovy.”
Queensboro Bridge Facts
Construction commenced – July 19, 1901
Open to traffic – March 30, 1909
Total length of bridge and approaches – 7449 feet
Verrazano Narrows Bridge
When it opened in 1964, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was the world’s longest suspension span.
Today, its length is surpassed only by the Humber Bridge in England. The ends of the bridge are at historic Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn and Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, both of which guarded New York Harbor at the Narrows for over a century. The bridge was named after Giovanni da Verrazano, who, in 1524, was the first European explorer to sail into New York Harbor.
Its monumental 693 foot high towers are 1 5/8 inches farther apart at their tops than at their bases because the 4,260 foot distance between them made it necessary to compensate for the earth’s curvature.
Each tower weighs 27,000 tons and is held together with three million rivets and one million bolts. Seasonal contractions and expansions of the steel cables cause the double-decked roadway to be 12 feet lower in the summer than in the winter.
Located at the mouth of upper New York Bay, the bridge not only connects Brooklyn with Staten Island but is also a major link in the interstate highway system, providing the shortest route between the middle Atlantic states and Long Island.
In Brooklyn, the bridge connects to the Belt Parkway and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and to the largely residential community of Bay Ridge. On Staten Island, which saw rapid development after the bridge opened in 1964, it joins the Staten Island Expressway, providing access to the many communities in this most rural of the city’s five boroughs