This is the story of a vision that so captivated the Roebling family, that neither death nor severe paralysis could stop them.
Their vision was to design and build the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. It would span 1600 feet across the East River, the longest suspension bridge of its time.
Its towers would stand 276 feet, 6 inches above the high water line and its Manhattan foundation would run 78 feet, 6 inches below it. It would be the biggest bridge in the world, 50% bigger than any other bridge. The towers would become the tallest structures in the United States.
But no bridge this vast had ever been built. And critics said it was impossible and too dangerous to even try.
More determined than ever, John Roebling, the family patriarch said in an 1867 report, “The contemplated work, when constructed in accordance with my design, will not only be the greatest bridge in existence, but it will be the great engineering work of the Continent and of the age.
“Its most conspicuous feature - the great towers - will serve as landmarks to the adjoining cities, and they will be entitled to be ranked as national monuments.”
With great enthusiasm, the Roebling family and their crew began to build the Brooklyn Bridge in 1869.
But shortly afterward, John Roebling was at the Brooklyn Fulton Ferry slip evaluating where to place the Brooklyn tower, when a boat crushed his foot and he died of infection 17 days later.
This placed a huge responsibility on his son Washington Roebling, who was just 32 years old and had little experience. He inherited what were only preliminary plans.
Feeling the enormous pressure, but exhilarated by the challenge, Washington finished the plans and put nearly all of his waking hours into the project.
Then in 1872, tragedy struck the Roeblings again. While working inside a caisson deep under the water level, Washington got “the bends” (decompression sickness). It left him severely paralyzed, and with little eye sight and sharply limited capability to speak.
He would never again be able to visit the Bridge. But he refused to quit. For the next 11 years of construction, he saw the project through a spyglass from his home and through his wife Emily’s eyes. She served as his intermediary.
To make this approach work, Emily developed a code of communication with Washington so that he could express himself by tapping with his finger. She also studied engineering extensively.
It was a difficult and brutal project and it is estimated that 27 workers died during the construction and others such as Washington Roebling incurred severe life threatening injuries.
But on May 24, 1883, New York City businesses and schools closed and bells chimed. President Chester A. Arthur presided over a massive crowd and a grand celebration as the Brooklyn Bridge was opened, with fireworks showering the air.
Who was the Bridge’s first passenger? It was Emily Roebling who proudly rode across in a horse and carriage.
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is a majestic landmark, a great work of art that has inspired people for the 123 years of its existence. It also serves as a testimony to the devotion and the perseverance of its creators, without whom it would not exist.
Success Tip of the Week: As the Roeblings showed us, if you have a grand vision, pursue it with all of your heart and energy. You may attain it, and as the Brooklyn Bridge did for the Roeblings, it may become your landmark. But even if you fail, you will grow exponentially from the journey.
EditorsNote: Thank you to reader Ariel Feir for calling this story to my attention.
In the next KazanToday, What if you trusted someone to manage your money and they lost it all. Could you forgive that person? This is the remarkable story of two men who did forgive and it led them to success beyond their wildest dreams.