Books and articles about the Brooklyn Bridge began appearing as soon as the bridge opened in May 1883. The bridge, known at the time as the Great East River Bridge, or simply the Great Bridge, was considered the engineering marvel of its time. The public followed its construction, and eagerly read about the triumphs of its builders.
Here are some links to classic writings about the Great Bridge which were published in the 1870s and 1880s. The books and articles can be read online, and most can be downloaded as .pdf files.
This small but fascinating book was published by a Brooklyn dry goods retailer to coincide with the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.
The book contains a wealth of information about the bridge, including some mechanical drawings showing how specific parts of the bridge work. It also contains a fairly detailed narrative history of the building of the bridge.
Published to commemorate the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883, this book contains the text of the speeches delivered by various dignitaries.
The opening day speeches seem stiff and archaic when read today. But the book also provides a lively account of the bridge's gala opening, which it calls "The People's Day." New York and Brooklyn, still two separate cities, were covered with flags and bunting.
As the book states: "The occurrence was recognized as one of National importance; from the rocky headlands of Maine to the golden shores of the Pacific, and from the gleaming waters of the St. Lawrence to the vast expanse of the Mexican gulf, the opening ceremonies were regarded with intelligent concern and approval."
The caisson was launched much like a boat, floated into the river, and then sunk so that men could begin working inside to dig the foundation for one of the bridge towers.
The article has an illustration of the caisson, and provides some interesting technical details about its construction and the plans for its use.
This fascinating book written by Washington Roebling, chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, was published in 1872, in the early years of the bridge's construction.
As the title indicates, it's a report on the use of compressed air in the caissons in which men dug away at the river bottom to create the foundations for the massive towers of the bridge.
The book is technical, yet nicely written. And its 92 pages contains a wealth of fascinating material about aspects of the Brooklyn Bridge which are generally overlooked, as the caissons were eventually filled with concrete and became the bridge foundations, deep under the East River.
This article published in the magazine Manufacturer and Builder in the October 1874 issue challenges the popular assertions that the bridge being built across the East River was inherently unsafe.
The Brooklyn Bridge has carried New York City traffic for more than 125 years, so it's easy to forget that skeptics often ridiculed the bridge while it was being built. And when the "old heads" referred to in this article predicted disaster, advocates of progress would forcefully argue that the bridge's design was sound.
This article in the July 1872 issue of Manufacturer and Builder is particularly interesting as the reporter actually descended into the caisson that would become the foundation of the Manhattan tower of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The writer describes in lively detail how the compressed air pumped into the caisson keeps the water of the river from rushing in. He also mentions being able to see the gneiss, the bedrock into which the workers had been digging. And he describes some of the peculiarities of working in the compressed air atmosphere, such as the changing of the human voice and the inability to whistle.
In the late 1800s, St. Nicholas Magazine was a very popular publication for American children and teenagers. In 1883, the year the Brooklyn Bridge opened, the magazine published an article which is highly informative.
The article includes fairly detailed illustrations showing particular aspects of the bridge's construction, including a cutaway view depicting men working in the caisson under the river, an illustration showing a fashionably dressed couple navigating the temporary wooden footbridge, and a drawing showing how the bridge towered over all the other buildings in lower Manhattan.