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Lesson Plans
"The Big Bridge Scheme": The Building and Impact of the Brooklyn Bridge
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a MS Word document for students with all of the Web sites as hyperlinks. Cue the Brooklyn Bridge videotape to the segment that is used, which starts with the image of the word "BROOKLYN" scrolling across the screen in white letters in silence. Remember to load the Quicktime VR plug-in, available at http://www.quicktime.com, on all computers in your classroom.
When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of vido segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Introductory Activities: Setting the Stage

Step 1

Explain to your students that you will be examining the history of the Brooklyn Bridge, but you will begin by looking at the bridge today. Instruct your students to go to the Web page "VR Tour: Brooklyn Bridge" at http://www.newyork.com/attraction/at/bro.html and the Brooklyn Bridge Gallery at http://www.dentontaylor.com/gallerya.htm, and provide them with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, telling them to closely examine all three views of the bridge and the various images of the bridge and record, on their Student Response Sheets, the answers to the following questions: What does the Brooklyn Bridge look like; describe the bridge; and what is the bridge used for? After the students have completed their work with the Web sites, check for comprehension by reviewing the answers on their Student Response Sheets. (The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge that has two sturdy-looking stone towers which are connected by metal cable and a roadway. There is also a pedestrian walkway on the bridge made out of what appears to be wooden boards. The bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, and is used so that people can go between the two boroughs, for both business and for pleasure - vehicles carry people and goods from one borough to the other for work and business, and people can also be seen jogging and walking across the bridge.)

Discuss your students' observations and check for comprehension. How important is the Brooklyn Bridge in their lives? What do they think their lives would be like if there were no Brooklyn Bridge? (Student answers will vary.)


Learning Activities

Step 1

Explain to your students that the Brooklyn Bridge has only been in use for a little over one hundred years. Before that time, there was no bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. Discuss this with students. How do they think people got back and forth between the two boroughs? Explain to students that you are going to watch a short video clip from The Brooklyn Bridge about life before the bridge was built. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to record on their Student Response Sheets what the conflict is in the clip. PLAY the video from the image of the word "BROOKLYN" scrolling across the screen in white letters. STOP the video after the woman says "must be built at once from New York to Brooklyn," and you see the camera panning across the headline of a newspaper that reads "Brooklyn Bridge" in black letters. Check for students' comprehension. (In the clip, which uses excerpts from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from January 1867, the woman's voice talks about the ferry service from Brooklyn to Manhattan that has been interrupted because New York Harbor has been frozen over. She says that because of these types of interruptions to travel and commerce, the Brooklyn Bridge must be built at once.)

Step 2

The building of the Brooklyn Bridge, also referred to as the East River Bridge, was a topic of conversation for many years. In that time, there was much debate about the need for and importance of such a bridge. Some people believed that it was a necessity to have a bridge to link the two cities and others believed that such a structure was not needed. Explain to students that you are going to read two "Views of Correspondents" (letters to the editor) from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from January 1867. Divide the students into pairs and have them go to the Web site of the Brooklyn Eagle at http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/eagle/index.htm and read the letters "Bridging the East River" and "The Big Bridge Scheme." To find these articles, enter the main site and search by keyword, using the titles of the letters for your search. In your listing of results, the article that you will need to use will be in your search results. You can have students navigate and read these articles online, or you can print them out.) Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to read each article and, on their Student Response Sheets, record the following information from each letter: date, author, point of view, and reasons for viewpoint. After students have read the letters, discuss them to check for comprehension. ("Bridging the East River" was written by E.P.D and published in the paper on January 25th, 1867. He thinks that it is important to build the bridge, citing other bridges in London as successful structures. He says, "Why may not a similar construction be made to unite New York and Brooklyn - the twin cities of American enterprise and industry?" In the letter, he states that this bridge could be both useful for increased commerce as well as a beautiful example of architecture. He sets for a plan for building the bridge and making it profitable, and ends his letter by stating "Give us the bridge!" "The Big Bridge Scheme" was written by Antipons and was published in the paper on January 28th, 1867. He is against building a bridge, stating that people are rarely troubled by ice in the river and that the ferry service is well-managed, comfortable, convenient, and affordable. He also states that "it is probable that not more than one person in a hundred would cross the river by that means" if it were to be built, and that a tunnel would be a better idea.)

Discuss these letters with your students. In hindsight it is easy to see how useful and important the Brooklyn Bridge is, but why would some people have been against it at the time it was proposed? (The bridge was a costly and time consuming venture, and some people felt that financial resources could be used in a better way. Also, technology and engineering was not the same as it is today. At this time, it was common for bridges to collapse.)

Step 3

Explain to students that after many years of public debate and discussion, plans were made to go ahead with building the bridge. In 1869, the New York Bridge Company was incorporated to build the Brooklyn Bridge. To get an overview of the construction, divide students into pairs and have them log onto the "Construction Countdown" page of the Brooklyn Expedition Website at http://www.brooklynexpedition.org/structures/buildings/bridge/bl_bridge_construct.html. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to view the site and record the fifteen important landmarks in the bridge's construction and definitions to the new construction terms used in the site (caisson, foundation, anchorage, suspenders, and stays). After students have finished looking at the Web site, check for comprehension. What steps were used to build the bridge? (Construction for the bridge began in May 1870. Throughout the course of these years, many steps were taken to build it, including using caissons to provide space to dig in to the bedrock, fashioning a foundation for the bridge and building the towers, running the suspension cables, and building the roadway. Construction was finished in May of 1883.)

Step 4

Explain to your students that after many years of construction, the bridge was completed, and that they will learn about that opening day by watching a video clip. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to watch the video clip and, on their Student Response Sheets, record the answers to the following questions: What does David McCullough say about the woman from Long Island; what does that tell us about the day the Brooklyn Bridge opened; how large was the bridge; who was responsible for building the bridge; who could travel on the bridge; what were the cables made out of; how long did it take to build the bridge; what other events happened and what other inventions were created at this time; and what does that tell us about this time period? PLAY the video from the image of David McCullough in a suit, saying " When Neil Armstrong..." and STOP the video after the man says "...and Einstein, Lenin, and Picasso were born" and there is a black and white image of many men on the unfinished bridge roadway. Check for students' comprehension. (David McCullough tells a story about a woman from Long Island who thought that the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge was more exciting than Neil Armstrong landing on the moon; the Brooklyn Bridge was the biggest bridge in the world and its towers were taller than anything in the North American Continent; John A. Roebling and his son, Washington Roebling, were in charge of the construction of the bridge; people could travel by horse and carriage on the roadway and by foot on the elevated promenade; the cables were made of steel, the "new metal of the new age;" it took 14 years to build the bridge, from 1869-1883; and in this time period the lightbulb and telephone were invented, plumbing was installed in the White House, buffalo were exterminated on the Great Plains, Marx died, and Einstein and Lenin were born.)


Culminating Activity

Step 1

Step 1: The Brooklyn Bridge is in many ways "the people's bridge." It is a structure that was built with public money to improve the lives of people living in Brooklyn and Manhattan. After the bridge was constructed, people felt a strong connection to it. Explain to your students that you are going to look at one person's perception of the bridge by reading a poem that was published in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/eagle/index.htm. To find this poem, enter the main site and search by keyword, using the author of the poem. Divide students into pairs and provide them with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, instructing them to read and discuss the poem "The Bridge" by Rev. M. D. Walbridge. How does he feel about the bridge? How does he describe the bridge? (Walbridge sees the bridge as a monument to human skill and ingenuity; he describes it as a strong and beautiful structure that will stand for many generations to come.) Discuss the poem with your students.

Step 2

Just as Walbridge expressed his feelings about the Brooklyn Bridge, have your students write a poem about a mode of transportation or infrastructure that is an important part of their lives. This could be a positive and/or negative view of things such as the subway, a specific highway, the bus, or a street they walk down everyday. When they have written their poem, have them share it with the class.

If writing a poem such as Walbridge's is too challenging for your students, try having them write an acrostic poem about the mode of transportation or infrastructure of their choice.


Cross-Curricilar Extensions

Science/ Math The Brooklyn Bridge was an important step in engineering and bridge-building. Explore how suspension bridges work and learn about there early suspension bridges and their engineers.

Government/ History The New York Bridge Company, which oversaw construction of the bridge, was embroiled in controversy because one if its trustees, William H. Tweed, was proven to be a corrupt politician. Adding fuel to this fire, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge took much more time and money than people had originally planned. Explore the connection between building this structure and the corruption of Tweed and Tammany Hall.

Current Events New transportation projects and innovations are always in the works and, much like the Brooklyn Bridge, they are met with both support and criticism. Have students research modern day transportation projects, such as the completion of the Second Avenue Subway Line, to learn about the impact these projects have on peoples' lives and communities, and the political impact of such projects.


Community Connections
  • Visit the Brooklyn Bridge! For more information about the Bridge, go to http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Brooklyn_Bridge.html.
  • Invite an engineer to speak to your class. Learn more about the history of suspension bridges, how they work, and how they are built.
  • Have your students learn about the history of other types of transportation innovations, such as tunnels, the Subway, and the highway system in New York City. Invite architects and city planners to come into your classroom to share information about these forms of transportation with your students, as well as give them insight into new trends in transportation.