I suggested at the beginning of this unit that bridges are the kind of structures that often make us gasp at the engineering and daring that built them. Many seem to have risen from nowhere and defy nature. Every bridge that has been built has a story and indeed there are many fantastic stories about bridges that would be of interest to my students.
One of the most famous stories concerns the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. John Roebling came up with the design for a bridge that would solve the problem of people wanting to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan. After much haggling the Government had decided to give him a chance to build the bridge. 'While doing preliminary work on where to site the bridge, John Roebling was the victim of a bizarre accident that caused his foot to be crushed. He lost for toes as a result of the accident but more importantly he developed Tetanus which caused his death on July 22,1869 before the bridge was ever begun. The project fell to his son, Washington Roebling to complete. While construction was under way Washington Roebling was injured when he along with other men were stricken with the bends as they worked in a caisson being lowered into the East River to anchor the bridge. For years Roebling suffered the affects of this experience. In order not to give up the project his father had begun, Roebling rented an apartment from which he could see the construction site with binoculars. His wife, Emily, who had a mind for mathematics and engineering, became his link to the bridge and so the project was completed. The bridge opened on May 24, 1883.10
There are many interesting people and interesting bridges such as the story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or Galloping Gertie as it was known. The bridge was known to ripple like a roller coaster and many people drove over it for fun. The bridge was only four months old on November 7, 1940, when it collapsed after a 40 mile an hour wind made the deck begin to twist more violently than usual. The traffic was stopped and soon after the bridge ripped apart. Amazingly no one was hurt.11 There are pictures and film of the disaster on the web which students will find interesting (see Resources).
There is also the story of the Golden Gate Bridge that was designed by Joseph Strauss. Strauss was not a trained engineer. He was a dreamer and a poet. He argued that a bridge could be built between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Strauss is a study in perseverance. When his original design for the foundation did not work he tried another way and changed his idea.12
There are many different people involved in the history of bridge building and many bridges worth talking about. Students can be assigned to research some of these many names. There is not room here to mention them all.