Read about the history of the bridge here.
[ Workers scaling one of the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge, 1881. Image courtesy of PBS]
Read about working conditions here. This is a snippet:
Soon after ground was broken on January 3, 1870, work on the Manhattan and Brooklyn foundations. The 3,000-ton pneumatic caissons – large, airtight cylinders in which workers cleared away layers of silt in an atmosphere of compressed air underneath the riverbed – were dug 78½ feet below the river on the Manhattan side, and 44½ feet below the river on the Brooklyn side. To expedite the descent of the caissons, dynamite was used for the first time in bridge construction. The foundations took three years to construct.
Life in the caissons was miserable. Immigrant laborers worked in the subterranean foundations, paid $2.25 per day to work in hazardous conditions without electricity, telephones or other conveniences. E.F. Farrington, the master mechanic working under Washington Roebling, described the inner workings of the caissons as follows:
Inside the caisson everything wore an unreal, weird appearance. There was a confused sensation in the head, like “the rush of many waters.” The pulse was at first accelerated, then sometimes fell below the normal rate. The voice sounded faint unnatural, and it became a great effort to speak. What with the flaming lights, the deep shadows, the confusing noise of hammers, drills and chains, the half-naked forms flitting about, if of a poetic temperament, get a realizing sense of Dante’s inferno. One thing to me was noticeable – time passed quickly in the caisson.
List of workers killed in the construction of the bridge.
[Fireworks photos are from the NYT]