Few people know that about 150 workers died during its construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. But not the lucky ones in this famous picture. These workers demonstrate the hardness and durability of steel cables that were used to build the Brooklyn Bridge.
The modern viewer may not find anything particular or exciting in the Brooklyn Bridge. But things were different at the end of the 19th century when the Brooklyn Bridge was just being erected. It was a real architectural and engineering gem. Its construction lasted 13 years, from 1870 to 1883. The Brooklyn Bridge became the largest suspension bridge in the world. It also became the first bridge to use steel cables. The Brooklyn Bridge is the classic object of the Gilded Age of New York City.
At the time it was built, the span across the East River connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan was the longest suspension bridge in the world – 5,989 feet (1.825km) in length and soars 119 feet (36.27m) above the river. The Brooklyn Bridge was opened for use on May 24, 1883.
A tragic history behind
The history of the construction of the bridge is closely related to the history of the Röbling family of engineers. We would even call this connection fatal, and we use this word in exceptional cases. So, 61-year-old engineer John Röbling was the first to sign up for the construction of the bridge. It was he who came up with the idea of placing two coastal spans and a suspended part on two massive supports 80 meters high.
The boat that John operated collided with a ferry. The engineer’s leg was smashed, doctors had to amputate fingers. Soon he died of tetanus. Nonetheless, Röbling entrusts the construction to his son Washington, who was also an engineer. But a sad fate awaited Washington too…
Washington Röbling suffered the decompression sickness, which led to paralyzation. Here’s why his wife Emily Röbling had to manage workers during 13 of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Workers hanging on the cables
Now let’s turn directly to the photograph of the workers on the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. The picture was taken on October 7, 1914, by Eugene de Salignac. He was the official photographer of the New York Department of Bridges and Factories. Actually, Eugene was not going to become a photographer. At the age of 42, he lost his job and happily accepted the offer of a photographer friend. Here’s how Eugene became a deputy photographer in the department.
Three years later, his friend passed away, and Eugene took his place. His professional duties included visiting construction sites and renovations in New York to immortalize them for the archives and the press.
The workers were painting the cables of Brooklyn Bridge when Eugene came to take some photos. Photo, to this day, is considered a classic of the black and white genre of the early 20th century. Photography experts put it in textbooks as an example of a perfect composition.