Articles, Blog

One of the most epic engineering feats in history – Alex Gendler

February 12, 2020

In the mid-19th century, suspension bridges
were collapsing all across Europe. Their industrial cables
frayed during turbulent weather and snapped
under the weight of their decks. So when a German-American engineer
named John Roebling proposed building the largest
and most expensive suspension bridge ever conceived
over New York’s East River, city officials
were understandably skeptical. But Manhattan
was increasingly overcrowded, and commuters from Brooklyn
clogged the river. In February of 1867, the government
approved Roebling’s proposal. To avoid the failures
of European bridges, Roebling designed
a hybrid bridge model. From suspension bridges, he incorporated large cables supported by
central pillars and anchored at each bank. This design was ideal
for supporting long decks, which hung from smaller vertical cables. But Roebling’s model
also drew from cable-stayed bridges. These shorter structures
held up their decks with diagonal cables that ran directly to support towers. By adding these additional cables,
Roebling improved the bridge’s stability, while also reducing the weight
on its anchor cables. Similar designs had been used
for some other bridges but the scope of Roebling’s plan here
dwarfed them all. His new bridge’s deck
spanned over 480 meters— 1.5 times longer than any previously built
suspension bridge. Since standard hemp rope
would tear under the deck’s 14,680 tons, his proposal called for
over 5,600 kilometers of metal wire to create the bridge’s cables. To support all this weight, the towers would need to stand
over 90 meters above sea level— making them the tallest structures
in the Western Hemisphere. Roebling was confident
his design would work, but while surveying the site in 1869, an incoming boat
crushed his foot against the dock. Within a month,
tetanus had claimed his life. Fortunately, John Roebling’s son,
Washington, was also a trained engineer and took over his father’s role. The following year, construction
on the tower foundations finally began. This first step in construction
was also the most challenging. Building on the rocky river bed involved
the use of a largely untested technology: pneumatic caissons. Workers lowered these airtight
wooden boxes into the river, where a system of pipes pumped
pressurized air in and water out. Once established, air locks
allowed workers to enter the chamber and excavate the river bottom. They placed layers of stone
on top of the caisson as they dug. When it finally hit the bedrock,
they filled it with concrete, becoming the tower’s
permanent foundation. Working conditions in these caissons
were dismal and dangerous. Lit only by candles and gas lamps,
the chambers caught fire several times, forcing them to be evacuated and flooded. Even more dangerous was
a mysterious ailment called “the bends.” Today, we understand this
as decompression sickness, but at the time, it appeared to be
an unexplainable pain or dizziness that killed several workmen. In 1872, it nearly claimed the life
of the chief engineer. Washington survived,
but was left paralyzed and bedridden. Yet once again,
the Roeblings proved indomitable. Washington’s wife Emily
not only carried communications between her husband and the engineers, but soon took over
day-to-day project management. Unfortunately,
the bridge’s troubles were far from over. By 1877, construction was over budget
and behind schedule. Worse still, it turned out
the bridge’s cable contractor had been selling them faulty wires. This would have been a fatal flaw
if not for the abundant failsafes in John Roebling’s design. After reinforcing the cables
with additional wires, they suspended the deck
piece by piece. It took 14 years, the modern equivalent
of over 400 million dollars, and the life’s work
of three different Roeblings, but when the Brooklyn Bridge
finally opened on May 24, 1883, its splendor was undeniable. Today, the Brooklyn Bridge
still stands atop its antique caissons, supporting the gothic towers
and intersecting cables that frame a gateway to New York City.


  • Reply Kobfish February 11, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    All these bridges, but I still can't bridge the gap between me and my crush 🙁

  • Reply Alfred February 11, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    Just came here after watching other ted-ed video.

  • Reply Anonymous Youtuber February 11, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    How come TED-Ed has 10 million subscribers but only around 300k views on average?

  • Reply Sincerely Eccentric February 11, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    Talk about family Goals! My family just yells from one room to the other, and can never understand each other.

  • Reply Baxtexx February 11, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    This was very interesting, thank you.

  • Reply Labdhi Sharma February 11, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Wow such a cool bridge the biggest and also the one which took 3 lives to complete!

  • Reply Sarvesh Sawant February 11, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Should have done this with London bridge which is still falling down…

  • Reply LeoVillads February 11, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    Love the artstyle 🙂

  • Reply Andrew Burton February 11, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    History is full of so many extraordinary feats of engineering. It's nice that we get to see one of them like this.

  • Reply LagiNaLangAko23 February 11, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    So, how did they reinforced it to handle modern-day traffic?

  • Reply Sean Serrano February 11, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Good thing we now have vaccines against tetanus

  • Reply InkwellFoto February 11, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    Why was she carrying a chicken over the bridge?

  • Reply DarK SHiiTs February 11, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Engineers then: making suspension bridge monuments.

    Engineers now:
    Bank employees , govt employee, train conductor.

  • Reply Barry Obama February 11, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Actualy I built that bridge myself, a cuppa years ago

  • Reply Albert Huang February 11, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    53th comment, 5173th views and 738th likes.

  • Reply Sebastian Elytron February 11, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Engineer and Anti-vaxxer come to a bridge

    Anti-vaxxer asks the engineer: Is it safe to cross the bridge?

    Engineer: It is 99.97% safe to cross that bridge.

    Anti-vaxxer: I'd rather swim.

  • Reply Ervin Z February 11, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    Did anyone notice the disappearing of twin towers at 4:50

  • Reply Jacqueline Keijzer February 11, 2020 at 5:02 pm


  • Reply Limerence February 11, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    The amount of research that must have gone into this, just for the animation alone. Like that last shot of New York growing up around the bridge, the animators would have to make sure the skyline matched the time frame, is phenomenal. Keep it up Ted Ed.

  • Reply Limerence February 11, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Imagine being born when they started building the bridge, spending your childhood looking out a window at the bridge that never seems to be finished, but slowly progresses, until finally in your teens it's finished and you get all nostalgic.

  • Reply OnyxFire408 February 11, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    Do the golden gate bridge next!

  • Reply Sami Mas February 11, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    So none is gonna talk about "Fuhgeddaboudit" ? What kind of sign is that?

  • Reply Sura Kareem February 11, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    Me: I've always wondered how they build the Brooklyn bridge

    TedEd: Building the Brooklyn bridge

    Me: wtf I was just thinking about it 2 seconds of release Now I can get A+ on my test
    Ty TedEd

  • Reply Cosmas Dexie February 11, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    Don't forget those who died building this so they could feed their families. Don't dismiss them, don't blindfold yourself to those unjust deaths. Feel it deep, and marvel at their work.

  • Reply Eric Cholico February 11, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    When humanity has been able to build this bridge, but not bridges between its own peoples…

  • Reply Kalle Lellacévej February 11, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Best opening quote!😂

  • Reply SnoopyDoo February 11, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Thought we were going to get a Skilshare ad on how to build bridges.

  • Reply Aurobindo Ghosh February 11, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    why did he make a dam?

  • Reply LHL Hamilton February 11, 2020 at 6:26 pm


  • Reply squalltheonly February 11, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    It took them 14 years to build that bridge 200 years ago. But here in Miami they have been working on the 826 highway for the past 20 years and they still not done.

  • Reply Rogue Cloud February 11, 2020 at 7:39 pm


  • Reply Radical Change February 11, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    Where are the "Think like a coder" videos?

  • Reply Peter February 11, 2020 at 7:50 pm

    ERTW…that is all.

  • Reply CH3RRYxB0MBx February 11, 2020 at 8:18 pm

    That intro quote tho 😂

  • Reply Jorge Amado Soria Ramírez February 11, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    this needs a movie.

  • Reply ThePark 627 February 11, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Least we know it wasn't Lupus

  • Reply German Jimenez February 11, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Building these amazing structures requires ingenuity, passion, perseverance and funding. We can see a marvel of past years because someone dared to challenge time and succeeded.

  • Reply Guyspy21 February 11, 2020 at 9:09 pm

    bridge constructor in real life

  • Reply kirby march barcena February 11, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    The mere fact that this bridge still stands today signifies how marvelous it was made

  • Reply Gabriel Câmera e Ação February 11, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Everyone:*Flashbacks of 2001*

  • Reply Jason Rodriguez February 11, 2020 at 9:28 pm


  • Reply Tjb 246 February 11, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Shoutouts to Roebling homies

  • Reply Zenthic Epic February 11, 2020 at 9:32 pm


  • Reply Zenthic Epic February 11, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    Etika sd'd on that stage

  • Reply Max Hill February 11, 2020 at 9:43 pm


  • Reply Ljk Vth February 11, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    حسبت فيه ترجمة للعربي:)

  • Reply Russian Bias February 11, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    There’s a great Graphic novel of the story beginning to end I forgot the name but it is great check it out!
    Also: after the crushed leg Roeblin refused amputation and it is possible he could have survived if he amputated preventing tetanus

  • Reply Steel Penguin February 11, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    4:40 that part reminds me to the final scene of Gangs of New York

  • Reply Pretzelbomb February 11, 2020 at 10:53 pm

    Fun Fact: The tower on the Manhattan side of the bridge doesn’t rest on bedrock, instead sitting on a bed of sand above it.

    The bends were getting so bad that workers were struggling to make any further progress so Washington Roebling researched the fossils found in the already excavated dirt and found that the sediment there didn’t move very much, so digging was stopped and the caisson was filled 27 feet short of the bedrock.

    To this day, thousands of cars, bikes, train passengers, and pedestrians cross the East River supported by sand.

  • Reply djb February 11, 2020 at 11:10 pm


  • Reply Maria Colls February 11, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    Seriously? From the American perspective.

  • Reply CircleNoob101 February 11, 2020 at 11:42 pm

    Welp, third time's a charm.

  • Reply Typhon Plume February 11, 2020 at 11:54 pm

    As someone that grew up in NYC, there is a HUGE mistake in the scripting here that is common with people living outside of NYC. Brooklyn and Manhattan are just 2 boroughs, or sections that make up NYC. So say a bridge that connects 2 sections of the city is a gateway connecting Brooklyn to NYC is a huge mistake, and insult to some like myself. One you guys as a education channel should be made aware of. Other then that it's a very good video.

  • Reply Felipe Carvalho Silva February 12, 2020 at 12:10 am

    Thanks for using the metric system! 🙂

  • Reply Kryp toNytz February 12, 2020 at 1:30 am

    The dedication and hardwork of the Roebling family have been stayed on this day..

  • Reply Do Mua February 12, 2020 at 2:17 am

    useful video, thank you]

  • Reply Alexis Lloyd Alinan February 12, 2020 at 2:22 am

    It's a reference of a game made by Hasbro

    I'll let you guess in the comments

  • Reply HealthyAc idElemental February 12, 2020 at 2:59 am

    What about china building a hospital in 10 days?

  • Reply Kunst Wunderkammer February 12, 2020 at 3:07 am

    I really love these historical figures, who also have great family members of friends who inherit the architects works and promises to complete them. Great feats are rarely achieved in a single generation.

  • Reply Commander Appo February 12, 2020 at 3:19 am

    The specters of the towers, big feels man. Hard to believe they’re gone

  • Reply Farming Furret February 12, 2020 at 4:07 am

    Such an interesting history. I live close to a small town called Saxonburg, PA, so I know all about it. John Roebling and his brother founded it as a German farming town. 😅

  • Reply Tivyan Aruneethan February 12, 2020 at 4:52 am

    Hey 1867, Canada's Confederation😆

  • Reply Morahman7vnNo2 February 12, 2020 at 4:54 am

    So how much for this bridge?
    Come on, it's an antique.

  • Reply Morahman7vnNo2 February 12, 2020 at 5:02 am

    Why is Madam Roebling holding a rooster at the end?

  • Reply egboii February 12, 2020 at 5:11 am

    Pewdiepie is afraid of this video

  • Reply Marie February 12, 2020 at 5:42 am


  • Reply Haha Kkp February 12, 2020 at 6:06 am

    who love ted ed
    push this button

  • Reply KHAN February 12, 2020 at 6:19 am

    What's up with Germans and brilliant engineering?

  • Reply SnowstarWarriorFlame February 12, 2020 at 6:28 am

    I had to do a project on this bridge once… it was a pretty spectacular bridge and I can never grasp how people build these bridges, especially back then

  • Reply Projjwal Ray-6 February 12, 2020 at 6:40 am

    Next topic to look up: "Decompression Syndrome"

  • Reply I Love My X February 12, 2020 at 6:41 am

    when i was a kid a dedicated neighbor got each of the students of an elementary school write a sentence supporting building a bridge, so they could get to school without getting their feet wet. reminds me of the struggle to get an approval and funding for a public project.
    But why is there only one bridge in our capitalistic society. shouldnot there be many bridges of brooklyn?

  • Reply varun prakash February 12, 2020 at 6:50 am

    Brooklyn Bridge one of the Engineering marvelous design cantilever bridge uses by a people 👍👍👍👍

  • Reply rithm747 February 12, 2020 at 7:00 am

    Is decompression sickness also possible when transitioning from high to low air pressure? I thought this would only be a concern when in water.
    In an aircraft which experiences a "rapid decompression" this does not cause decompression sickness. (Only the sudden lack of oxigen is a concern here.)

  • Reply Shiann Tolliver February 12, 2020 at 7:06 am

    Wow the bridge opened on my birthday

  • Reply _iAmJUsTlA5y__ _ February 12, 2020 at 7:45 am


  • Reply Seth Leoric February 12, 2020 at 7:57 am

    Geez man i finally went to America and let me say, your landmarks (The place from FONV [Hoover Dam] and this) and wow they were such marvels of engineering

  • Reply xxuncexx February 12, 2020 at 8:02 am

    You forgot to mention that one tower doesn’t even sit on bedrock

  • Reply Raphael R. February 12, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Roebling had fallen victim to the pseudoscientific notions of his time about water therapy and refused medical treatment for his foot injury. He instead opted for submerging his foot in prolonged water baths, which of course did nothing for his infection.

  • Reply Infinity80836 February 12, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Bridges are cool, Ted-Ed is cooler.

  • Reply tishko fuad February 12, 2020 at 9:39 am

    of course he is going to be german.

  • Reply Mujahid Syed February 12, 2020 at 9:41 am

    How many reasons must be provided to you? Just click that subscribe button already

  • Reply Vince Calumba February 12, 2020 at 9:44 am

    I love History

  • Reply Izzad 77 February 12, 2020 at 10:43 am


    I dont know ted-ed was also an islamophobe…

  • Reply Eric The Epic February 12, 2020 at 11:13 am

    Another of John Roebling's bridges connects Pennsylvania and New York over the Delaware River. Originally, it acted as a aqueduct, but has since been retrofitted into a car and foot bridge. The company for whom the bridge was constructed established an office a short distance away from where the bridge was constructed. Today, that small, quaint house has been converted into an inn, and is run by my Aunt!

  • Reply minkarma February 12, 2020 at 11:37 am

    never knew it was opened on my birthday cool

  • Reply REzado63 February 12, 2020 at 11:56 am

    I love this story. You really need to see it on Modern Marvels though that go into a lot more details. Still a great job from Ted

  • Reply haris iqbal February 12, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Wow.. While showing the timeline of the bridge in the end, they show twin towers and then it disappears in the last frame. Level of detail is phenomenal..

  • Reply Robert Costello February 12, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    He stubbed his foot on a rock. Nothing to do with a boat.

  • Reply Anay Garodia February 12, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    No one:
    Literally no one in all of existence:

    TED quote: "fuhgeddaboudit"

  • Reply Aiden Tan February 12, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Ted Ed, make a video about Wuhan Virus(coronavirus)

  • Reply Elizabeth Dziadul February 12, 2020 at 2:50 pm


  • Reply ham n Cheese February 12, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    The animation is epic too

  • Reply Norman Ebs February 12, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Building Brooklyn Bridge is easy, it’s selling the Brooklyn Bridge that’s hard 😂😂

  • Reply Rohith Padikkal February 12, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    At 4:48 , the Twin Towers disappear……😔

  • Reply Apollon Lv February 12, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    There was too many bike riders in a small bridge.. I was afraid if I collided with them. 😟

  • Reply Hưng Tin Học February 12, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    I am from Vietnam

  • Reply Mark Crawford February 12, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Dear Ted Ed,

    Not everyone uses the metric system.

    Most of America

  • Reply Rob C February 12, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    People in the past are frail AF. You think they would come up with universal health care to save as much lives a possible. But of course, America was created on greed, so that silly idea never came to light.

  • Reply Inkyminkyzizwoz February 12, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    The BBC did a series in the early 2000s of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World and this was one of them, with each episode reenacting the construction of one wonder

  • Reply Cai Ouellet February 12, 2020 at 9:09 pm

    What happens if you don’t blink?

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