Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Lynn Curlee
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 2001   ISBN: 978-0689831836

The New York and Brooklyn Bridge was the brain child of John Augustus Roebling, a hardworking, highly educated engineer and inventor who came to America from Germany in 1831. Roebling figured out how to make rope using iron wires and began producing the rope in a factory that he had built. It wasn’t long before his invention made him a rich man, and in 1845 he began using his invention and his engineering skill to build four large suspension bridges. Once he was confident that his bridges were safe, he began working out how to build “the world’s biggest bridge.”

In the mid 1800’s, New York and Brooklyn were two of the biggest cities in the United States. Though they were only separated by half a mile of water, getting from one city to the other was a trial. People wanting to travel from New York to Brooklyn or vice versa had to get across the East River on a ferryboat, and at times such journeys were unsafe and took a long time. In 1867, Roebling began to work on plans for a bridge to link the two cities, and three months later they were complete. In 1869 Roebling was surveying the bridge site when he was injured, and a few days later he died of his injuries. His son became Chief Engineer, and for the next fourteen years he worked on fulfilling his father’s dream.

Building the bridge required that new building techniques had to be developed. Since large earth-moving equipment did not exist yet, the foundations for each stone tower of the bridge had to be dug by hand, and men had to work in appalling conditions under wooden caissons. As the laborers dug down to the bedrock, the caissons protecting them from the river sank lower into the river bottom. The bedrock on the New York side of the bridge lay far deeper than it did on the Brooklyn side, which meant that the laborers had to dig down much further. In fact, they had to dig so far down that they began to experience the bends, the way deep sea divers do. Laborers started to die. Even Roebling got the bends, and for several years his health was severely compromised. It seemed as if every step of the process was plagued with problems and accidents, but since no one had built a bridge like this before, issues with workers and building methods were to be expected.

Even though many longer and bigger bridges have been build since the Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge is still considered one of the world’s most extraordinary engineering marvels. The story of its creation is fascinating, and in this account Lynn Curlee gives readers a very real sense of how hard it was to build this celebrated structure.