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May 7, 2021
jvr7 Starter
Finishing the Great Bridge by David McCullough - Some observations
The book is a the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1869 to 1883. In true McCollough fashion it is meticulously researched and spun into a very good narrative. Overall I recommend the book.

1) Building the bridge without the aid of electricity or gas engines was an extraordinary feat. The ingenuity and audacity of the project is inspiring. A great triumph of the bold American imagination. The bridge holds a special place in American as well as engineering history, because it became the model for many of the larger spanning suspension bridges that were later built. Suspension enabled broad spans in bridge work that allow for maritime and road-based traffic.

2) The historical and political context was very interesting. William "Boss" Tweed was a fascinating person both because of the intricacy of the political machine he built and the level corruption he achieved before it caught up with him. Estimates are that his personal wealth was between 45 - 200 million at the time (between 1-4 billion in today's dollars). I imagine a smart TV producer could take his story and make it into a really good TV series. Interestingly, he was able to push a lot of substantial public projects forward because of the political capital he had that might not have been done otherwise.

3) The Roebling family was an impressive family. John Roebling was a German immigrant who came to America to build a better life than what was available in the small German town where he grew up. He was a gifted engineer who built many of the early suspension bridges in the US. He designed the entire bridge, but died before it began construction. His son, Washington Roebling picked up where he left off. He had designed the caisson that were sunk in the river and became the foundation of the bridge. During that phase of construction he spent a lot of time in the caisson and developed a case of the Bends, which eventually very ill made him to the point that he was homebound. He still oversaw the construction and served as the chief engineer without being at the bridge or the office surrounding it. His wife became a key figure in the bridge's construction by being his scribe and more importantly his liaison. While serving as his scribe and working by his side she became very knowledgeable about the design and construction of the bridge. She was able to answer questions and give some direction on its construction. I am very pro-immigration, people that come here to build a better life for their families often contribute in profound ways to the betterment of this country.

4) It is rightfully called the Brooklyn bridge, though both New York and Brooklyn funded it, it was the Brooklynites that really moved it forward. It was more important at the time for Brooklyn to be connected to New York than vice-versa.

5) Before the skyscraper building that occurred after the turn of the century it was the tallest and most significant landmark in the New York skyline. It still holds a prominent place in the skyline now, but when it built it was simply awe inspiring.

6) When the towers were completed but they were still "spinning the wire" that would make up the cables. You could apply for a pass to walk across a catwalk that spanned from tower to tower. What an unnerving but memorable experience that would have been.
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Jul 20, 2006
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