This year, Brooklyn is celebrating the 100th birthday of the Williamsburg Bridge a structure known less for its beauty than for its utilitarianism. Over the past century, it has served as a gateway for a colorful stream of immigrants seeking a better life in the surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods.
As chief engineer for the Williamsburg, Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame member Leffert Buck (Class of 1868) set out to build a structurally sound bridge that would be cheaper, and longer, than the nearby Brooklyn Bridge. Throughout his career, Buck became known as an engineer who erected and repaired significant structures, often without disrupting traffic.
In building the Williamsburg, Buck proposed several cost-saving measures. He opted for shorter, lighter cables as well as steel approaches, rather than the traditional masonry arches. He was the first to use all-steel towers on a suspension bridge, which allowed the towers to be taller and the foundations smaller. He finished with a bridge that was 4.5 feet longer than the Brooklyn Bridge and the longest in the world at that time. He also created a link between the island of Manhattan and Brooklyn that would forever change the face of New York City.
The Williamsburg Bridge opened on Dec. 19, 1903, to horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, pedestrians, and an influx of Jewish and Italian settlers from the crowded Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Immigrants also continued to move across the bridge, including Puerto Ricans who left Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as bohemian artists arriving in recent years in search of cheaper rents and creative spaces.
The Williamsburg began to suffer from neglect in the 1970s and 1980s and city officials considered tearing it down and building a new bridge. In the end, they determined it would be less expensive to overhaul the existing structure.
Today, the bridges cables, steel towers, trusses and roadways have been rehabilitated and its eight lanes of traffic are moving once again. Once more the beloved workhorse of Brooklyn the Williamsburg Bridge is a testament to the talents of Rensselaer alumnus Leffert Buck.
Rensselaers Westchester and New York City alumni chapters held an anniversary celebration Sept. 6, featuring speakers from campus who talked about the bridges history, as well as a tour of New York City bridges that have Rensselaer connections.
|Rensselaer Magazine: Fall 2003|
|President's View||Your Mail||From the Archives||Hawk Talk||Class Notes Features|
|Front Page||At Rensselaer||Milestones|
|In Memoriam||Making a Difference||Staying Connected|
|Rensselaer Home Page | RPInfo | AlumServ Home Page|
Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute.
|© 2003 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. All rights reserved worldwide.|
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), 110 8th St., Troy, NY 12180. (518) 276-6000
Web site design by the Rensselaer Office of Communications.
Contact Jane Van Ryan, Assistant Vice President, Office of Communications.
Questions? Comments? Please contact us.