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ROEBLING, John Augustus (1806-69)

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ROEBLING, John Augustus (1806-69), German-American, civil engineer, who was one of the pioneers in the construction of suspension bridges.

Roebling is the name of two American engineers, father and son, who were pioneers in the development of suspension bridges and wire cable. They are best known as the designers and builders of the Brooklyn Bridge. John Augustus Roebling, b. Mühlhausen, Germany, June 12, 1806, and educated at the Royal Polytechnic School, Berlin. In 1831 he immigrated to Saxonburg, near Pittsburgh, Pa., and shortly thereafter was employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Corp. to survey its route across the Allegheny Mountains between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. He then demonstrated the practicability of steel cables in bridge construction and in 1841 established at Saxonburg the first factory to manufacture steel-wire rope in the U.S. Roebling utilized steel cables in the construction of numerous suspension bridges and is generally considered one of the pioneers in the field of suspension-bridge construction. From 1851 to 1855 he built a railroad suspension bridge over the Niagara River at Niagara Falls. He designed the Brooklyn Bridge but, while supervising preliminary construction operations, was injured and died on July 22, 1869. Washington Augustus Roebling, b. Saxonburg, Pa., May 26, 1837, was made chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge after his father's death. Although disabled by decompression sickness after entering a caisson in 1872, he completed the bridge in 1883. Thereafter, he managed the family firm in Trenton, N.J., where he died on July 21, 1926.

The Brooklyn Bridge (1869-83) was the first great suspension bridge in the United States that had cables formed from parallel steel wires that were spun in place. This fundamental method is still used today. Designed by John Roebling and completed by his son Washington Roebling, the Brooklyn Bridge links the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan across the East River in New York City. When the Brooklyn Bridge was opened for use on May 24, 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge carries six lanes of traffic on a span of 486 m (1,595 ft), 50 percent longer than the previous maximum span. The foundations were built in timber caissons sunk to depths of 13.5 m (44 ft) on the Brooklyn piers and 24 m (78 ft) on the Manhattan piers. Compressed air pressurized the caissons. At that time little was known of the risks of working under such conditions, and more than a hundred workers suffered serious cases of the bends. But in spite of all hazards, the work was completed, and the bridge stands today as an enduring tribute to its daring engineers. New York City honored the bridge with a gala centennial celebration in 1983.

Related links:

More about the Roebling Family:

The Roebling Online History Archive
The Historic Village of Roebling, NJ


Brooklyn Museum, The Great East River Bridge, 1883-1983 (1983);
McCullough, David G., The Great Bridge (1972, repr. 1983);
Shapiro, M.J., A Picture History of the Brooklyn Bridge (1984).
Schuyler, Hamilton, The Roeblings: A Century of Engineers, Bridgebuilders, and Industrialists (1931; repr. 1978);
Steinman, David B., Builders of the Bridge: The Story of John Roebling and His Son (1945; repr. 1972).

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