It was on May 24, 1883 — 133 years ago! — that the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time was opened to the public. The first passenger to cross the completed bridge was Emily, as requested by her husband and the chief engineer, Washington Roebling. Since 1872, when Washington was struck by caissons disease (aka decompression sickness or the bends), Emily had taken over as “Field Engineer” of the Brooklyn Bridge’s
construction. Already a well educated woman, she further expanded her knowledge by studying mathematics and bridge engineering to competently manage this critical role.
Opening the Way’s guidebook features a contemporary account describing the moment Emily made the crossing:
She and a coachman had crossed over from Brooklyn in a new Victoria, its varnish gleaming in the sunshine. She had taken a live rooster along with her, as a sign of victory, and from one end of the bridge to the other, the men had stopped their work to cheer and lift their hats as she came riding along.
To really appreciate the feat of the Brooklyn Bridge, take a moment to visit and read these image-filled posts detailing the construction of the bridge along with fabulous historical photos:
130 Years Of Brooklyn Bridge Photos, Decade By Decade, Curbed New York.
Brooklyn Bridge History and Photography, James Maher Photography.
Extra Historical Connection!: Another famous nineteenth-century figure was present at the Bridge’s opening, President Chester A. Arthur. At the age of 24, long before he was president, Arthur was a junior partner at the law firm hired to represent Elizabeth Jennings (Opening the Way’s sixth stop) in her suit against the Third Avenue Railroad Company for racial discrimination. He was the lawyer who successfully represented Jennings, resulting in an 1855 ruling by the jury to award $225 in damages and setting a precedent that aided the desegregation of New York’s public transportation in 1861.