Bridges Gilded Age New York Podcasts

The Roeblings: The Family Who Built The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, which was officially opened to New Yorkers 140 years ago this year, is not only a symbol of the American Gilded Age, it’s a monument to the genius, perseverance and oversight of one family.

This episode is arranged as a series of three mini biographies of three family members — John Roebling, his son Washington Roebling and Washington’s wife Emily Warren Roebling Through their stories, we’ll watch as the Brooklyn Bridge is designed, built and opened in 1883.

John Roebling was one of America’s most successful engineers by the 1850s, a German immigrant and visionary who designed impressive suspension bridges and created an entire industry (wire rope) quite literally in his back yard.

His greatest achievement would be the East River Bridge, connecting the two great cities of New York and Brooklyn. But John would never see the bridge built — or even begun. A freak accident would put his son Washington in charge.

Washington Roebling was trained to follow in his father’s footsteps although their relationship was far from perfect. Roebling further excelled as an engineer for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Suddenly in charge of the East River Bridge project in 1869, Washington threw himself into the world, working aside his men within the sunken caissons that would secure the bridge to the river floor. But decompression illness would threaten his life and eventually prevent him from active work.

Emily Warren Roebling would step up on her husband’s behalf, becoming the bridge’s unofficial field engineer, maneuvering through a world of men with extraordinary intellect and grace, communicating her husband’s wishes and presumably making her OWN decisions on the spot.

PLUS: One more Roebling! Greg and Tom are joined in the studio by Kriss Roebling, the great, great-grandson of Washington and Emily Roebling. He shares his own surprising family stories — and brings in some extraordinary artifacts from his family’s past!

WITH: Stories of Slinky’s, 1980s Dumbo and Ben Stiller?


Kriss Roebling in the studio, showing off John Roebling’s surveying tools used to the draft the blueprints of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The band Capital Punishment featuring Kriss Roebling and bandmate Ben Stiller

For a marvelous on-the-bridge experience, follow filmmaker Ken Burns along with New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman as they discuss the bridge’s history and majesty.

 Ken Burns UNUM


Building the Brooklyn Bridge 1869-1883An Illustrated History with Images in 3D — Jeffrey I. Richman
Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge — Erica Wagner
Engineering America: The Life and Times of John A. Roebling — Richard Haw
The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge — David McCullough
A Picture History of the Brooklyn BridgeWith 167 Prints and Photographs — Mary J. Shapiro

Emily Warren Roebling obituary in the New York Times (2018)
Emily Warren Roebling obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1903)


After listening to this show about the Roeblings and the Brooklyn Bridge, dive back into these past Bowery Boys podcasts with similar or related themes

That Daredevil Steve Brodie
A tale of the ‘sporting life’ of the Bowery from the 1870s and 80s. A former newsboy named Steve Brodie grabs the country’s attention by leaping off the Brooklyn Bridge on July 23, 1886. Or did he?

Crossing to Brooklyn: How the Williamsburg Bridge Changed New York City
The story of the Williamsburg Bridge — poorly received when it was built but vital to the health of New York City.

The Manhattan Bridge: New York’s Dysfunctional Classic
We love the Manhattan Bridge, but there’s no doubt it’s had a rocky history. For one hundred years, it’s withstood more than just comparisons to its far more iconic neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Bridge to Everywhere: The George Washington Bridge
The George Washington Bridge is best known for being surprisingly graceful, darting between Washington Heights and the Palisades, a vital connection in the interstate highway system. 

4 replies on “The Roeblings: The Family Who Built The Brooklyn Bridge”

Hi Tom & Greg, well gentleman, another marvellous episode. I’ve walked across Brooklyn Bridge, got as far as that plaque. Ken Burns doc. introduced me to the Roebling’s story. A stunning description of working in a caison can be found in a novel An Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I recall giving a “native New Yorker waitress, a potted version of Emily Warren Roebling’s part in the build, she was astonished that an English tourist knew of her. Well done, once again. Pat McLennan Ripon, North Yorkshire, UK

The Engineer‘s Wife by Tracy Enerson Wood is a good historical fiction novel about Emily Roebling.

This was a great episode. The wire rope factory in Trenton is now loft apartments. On the top floor on of the remnants of one of the quality control machines still exists. The other buildings in the complex are being converted to other businesses

Great episodes!
Check out the graphic novel The Bridge published by Abrams and written by me and illustrated by Sara DuVall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *