Today in History: 140th Anniversary of the Celebrated Brooklyn Bridge Opening
On May 24, 1883, the world's longest suspension bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, opened after 14 years of construction.
The opening of New York's beloved bridge brought much attention and fanfare. President Chester Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland led the dedication.
"The crowd cheered as Emily Roebling — wife of the chief engineer and an integral figure in its construction — became the first person to cross [the bridge]. That night, fireworks illuminated the sky," reported Oxford University Press.
According to an article in The Sun in 1891, at least two dozen people were killed in the thirteen years it took to build the bridge. The bridge cost around $15.5 million to build, surpassing the original budget of $5 million. This amount has a purchasing power of over $450 million today when factoring in inflation.
The bridge, billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," was the longest suspension bridge by far at the time. It kept its title until 1903, when the Williamsburg Bridge overtook it by a mere 4.5 feet.
Initially, the bridge carried horse-drawn and rail traffic, with a separate walkway for pedestrians and bicycles along the centerline. In 1950, the main roadway began carrying six lanes of automobile traffic and a shared pedestrian and bicycle path. In September 2021, one lane of vehicular traffic was repurposed to construct a two-way protected bike lane along the Brooklyn Bridge.
At the opening, the bridge's toll was higher than it is these days. Back then, History Channel recounted it cost one cent to cross the bridge by foot, five cents for a horse and rider, and ten cents for a horse and wagon. The pedestrian toll was repealed in 1891, and the roadway tolls were taken away in 1911.
The NYC Department of Transportation estimated in 2018 that an average of over 116,000 vehicles, 30,000 pedestrians, and 3,000 cyclists travel over the Brooklyn Bridge each day.