Little Bits of History

Manhattan Bridge

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2015
Manhattan Bridge under construction

Manhattan Bridge under construction

December 31, 1909: The Manhattan Bridge opens. The bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn and is maintained by New York City Department of Transportation. The suspension bridge was designed by Leon Moisseiff and construction began in 1901 and was finished in 1912, although the incomplete bridge opened on this date. Two other suspension bridges crossed the East River and this was the third and last built. The upper level was originally used for streetcars and the original walkway on the South side of the bridge was closed for forty years, only reopening in 2001. At that time, a dedicated bicycle path was opened on the North side.

It was not until 1910 that the triumphal arch and colonnade were drawn up. This addition was part of Manhattan’s “City Beautiful” campaign. The construction of the addition was not completed until 1915. When the bridge opened on this day, the tracks included did not connect to anything. It wasn’t until 1912 that the streetcars were actually functional. The total length of the bridge is 6,855 feet with the longest span measuring 1,480 feet. Today, there are seven lanes of roadway, 4 tracks for the B, D, N, and Q trains of the New York City Subway, and the pedestrian and bicycle lanes. The towers rise to a height of 336 feet with a clearance of 135 feet below the bridge. This is one of four toll-free bridges spanning the East River and over 70,000 people cross it each day.

Moisseiff’s innovative design was the first suspension bridge to use Josef Melan’s deflection theory for stiffening the deck. Because of this, it is considered to be the forerunner of modern suspension bridges as it served as a model for many of the long-span bridges built in the first half of the last century. It was also the first suspension bridge to use a Warren truss in its design. Moiseiff was born in Riga, Latvia in 1872 and studied at the Baltic Polytechnic Institute for three years before coming to America when he was 19 years old. He was forced to flee because of political pressures against Jews in his home land. He finished his studies at Columbia University and earned a degree from there in civil engineering in 1895.

He gained a national reputation when he designed this bridge. He advocated for all-steel bridges and a move away from the stone and concrete bridge of before. His work with deflection theory, which stated that longer the spans in the bridges, the more flexible they could be, helped to make him famous enough to be called in to help with the Golden Gate Bridge. He was one of the leading suspension bridge builders in the 1920s and 30s and was awarded The Franklin Institute’s Louis E. Levy Medal in 1933. He went on to design the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, one of the most derided bridges in the country. The bridge collapsed just a few months after it was completed in 1940. Moisseiff died in 1943 after suffering a heart attack and the arrogance of his final bridge design, the Tacoma Narrows, overshadowed much of his earlier brilliant work.

Men build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Isaac Newton

Ugly programs are like ugly suspension bridges: they’re much more liable to collapse than pretty ones, because the way humans (especially engineer-humans) perceive beauty is intimately related to our ability to process and understand complexity. – Eric S. Raymond

The bridges you cross before you come to them are over rivers that aren’t there. – Gene Brown

A bridge is only a bridge, a highway in the sky. – Herb Caen

Also on this day: Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Quarters – In 1960, the farthing was finished.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.
Granted – In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter.
Long Lease – In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a lease.

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