The Roeblings and the Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Fiction Unraveled at ASCE 2015 Convention

June 26, 2015

All civil engineers know of the legendary Roebling family, but do you know how family dynamics shaped their contributions to the field? The Roeblings’ wire rope is still at work in today’s suspension bridges, high-rise elevators, construction cranes, and cable cars. Civil engineers familiar with the Roeblings’ legacy may be surprised to learn about the complicated, intricate web woven by these driven, innovative, and difficult people. Consultant, author, researcher, and historian Donald Sayenga unravels the real story in his landmark book, Washington Roebling’s Father: A Memoir of John A. Roebling, and will share his insights as a Distinguished Lecturer at the ASCE 2015 Convention in New York, Oct. 11-14.

After all the surveys were finished, reports made, and maps and profiles filed, the year 1839 had arrived. My father had not lost sight of the wire rope project on the portage, but in view of his complete ignorance of the art of rope making, want of machinery and appliances and small capital, prudence suggested that he first make a small rope by way of experiment and learn something about it—At Johnstown there was a small subsidiary plane some 400 feet in length. And He induced the proprietor to let him make a rope for him of that length and about 3/4 inches thick—It was made on the meadow at Saxonburg and proved a complete failure because it was not even a twisted rope, but was made of parallel wires served with annealed wire by means of an ordinary serving mallet. Of course as soon as the serving broke the whole rope went to pieces—However, nothing daunted, he bravely went to work again and studied the whole subject thoroughly—The experience gained by one failure is often of the greatest value in pointing the way to the right path.

–Washington Roeblin

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