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From Here to There: A Brief History of Bridges

By Judy712
  • Jan 1, 1345

    Ponte Vecchio

    Ponte Vecchio
    Photo: Pedro LopezMedieval bridge builders borrowed the form of the stable Roman arch bridge, but began to build upward, layering on dwellings and places of business. Florence’s Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) is one of the most famous inhabited bridges, known both for its stunning setting and for the fact that it is still in use. Spanning the narrowest point of the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio sustained significant damage in the great Florence flood of 1966.
  • Jade Belt Bridge

    Jade Belt Bridge
    Photo: Markus SpringBeijing’s Jade Belt Bridge was built by the emperor Ch’ien-lung as part of a garden in tribute to his late father. An outstanding example of the traditional “moon bridge” style, it unites the green river curve with that of white marble and stone. The steep arch, high enough to allow the emperor’s ceremonial barge to pass underneath, also invited the alternate name “Camel’s Back Bridge.”
  • The Iron Bridge

    The Iron Bridge
    Photo: Easterly PhotographyThe Industrial Revolution brought the first great advance to Western bridges since the Roman arch. The Iron Bridge, in Shropshire, England, was the first to be constructed entirely of cast iron. Abraham Darby III, a local ironmaster, designed the Iron Bridge as a rapid way to transport materials and goods across the Severn River. Workers cast each piece of the 100-foot span individually and assembled the pieces in place. The bridge has been closed to all but pedestrian traffic since 1934.
  • Brooklyn Bridge

    Brooklyn Bridge
    Photo: PostdifWhen the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, opened in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 3,460 feet. Its construction had been marked by technical difficulties, dangerous conditions, and the death of its visionary designer John Roebeling, whose son Washington oversaw completion of the audacious plan. The bridge was the first to use underwater caisson chambers, and to feature steel cables.
  • Garabit Viaduct

    Garabit Viaduct
    Photo: Graeme ChurchardGustave Eiffel designed the immense Garabit Viaduct in France’s Massif Central nearly two decades before his namesake monument opened in Paris. To withstand the fierce winds of the Garbit Valley, Eiffel settled on a truss design of open triangles, providing strength while allowing the wind to pass right through. The railway bridge with a span of 1,853 feet crossed the Truyere River at a height of height of 400 feet and helped earn Eiffel his nickname, “the magician of iron."
  • Firth of Forth Bridge

    Firth of Forth Bridge
    Photo: Gary HendersonBuilt to replace the ill-fated Tay Bridge, where 75 people perished when a storm demolished the bridge in 1879, the Firth of Forth Bridge needed above all to exude a sense of strength and solidity. The bridge is a massive example of cantilever design, which had previously been used only for much smaller projects. It was the first bridge to be constructed primarily of steel and was so solidly built that the 8,276 foot span still transits hundreds of trains a day.
  • Golden Gate Bridge

    Golden Gate Bridge
    Photo: L1meyThe Golden Gate Bridge is both American icon and engineering marvel. Builder Joseph Strauss had to overcome not only windy, foggy, frigid conditions in San Francisco Bay, but also the challenge of building in an earthquake zone. Amazingly, the bridge was completed only five months late, under budget, and with the loss of just twelve lives. Until 1964, it was the world’s largest suspension span at 8,981 feet, and also held the record for the world’s tallest suspension towers until 1998.
  • Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse

    Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse
    Univ. of Wash. Libraries, Special Collections, UW21422In November 1940, a mere four months after its opening, high winds took down the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Tacoma, Washington. Designed to be more slender and elegant than the Golden Gate Bridge, the 7,392 foot suspension bridge exhibited rolling and bucking from the time that it opened. Amazingly, no one was killed in its stunning collapse. Engineers later determined that the bridge’s solid girders blocked the wind and intensified its force beyond the bridge’s capacity.
  • Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge

    Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge
    Photo: Kim Rotzel Japan's Akashi-Kaikyō is a current record-holder. It is the longest suspension bridge in the world, stretching 12,828 feet across the Akashi Strait. (Three feet were added to the total length when a 1995 earthquake struck during the construction of the bridge, moving its towers apart and necessitating an adjustment to the roadway.) Its towers rise up a record 928 feet.
  • Alcántara Bridge

    Alcántara Bridge
    Photo: Dantla Natural and primitive bridges have linked here to there for as long as humans have been on the move. The imperial Romans, thanks to use of the arch, were the first to build bridges that changed history. On the western outpost of the Empire, Trajan ordered construction of a bridge over the Tagus River at Alcántara. Completed ca. 106 CE (NOT 2006, despite Timetoast), the 636-foot span was built to “last forever.”