The Second Suspension Bridge

Niagara Falls, New York – Niagara Falls, Ontario

1588 – 1877

In 1853, bridge designer/engineer John A. Roebling came to Niagara. Roebling was the person responsible for the building of the Railway Suspension Bridge to allow the Grand Trunk Railway to connect from Canada to the USA.

John A. Roebling, a German born and educated structural engineer immigrated to America. Upon his arrival to America, Roebling promoted his idea of a wire cable for the construction of suspension bridges, instead of the previous use of chains. Roebling became the first to manufacture wire rope in North America.

When Charles Ellet Jr. had successfully submitted his design to build the first suspension bridge over the Niagara Gorge with a single deck, John Roebling had submitted a design for a double deck bridge. His idea was to create a stronger structure with the capacity of much greater traffic. He proposed that one deck would be dedicated to rail traffic and the other would be dedicated for carriage and pedestrian traffic. Roebling’s design was rejected in 1847 mostly because his plan for a suspension bridge for trains was questioned. Most thought that it would not be capable of holding the weight and stresses. Roebling was of the belief that no other type of bridge was suitable, and that the suspension bridge was the future.

In 1851, there was a need for a train bridge across the Niagara Gorge. So, the Bridge Company selected Roebling’s original bridge design over those submitting by Samuel Keefer and Edward W. Serrell.

Work began on the new superstructure in September of 1852.

The second bridge had two stone pylons at each end to support the four large iron cables. The railway deck was built above the carriage floor. These were both were joined by a latticed truss of wood construction. In the end it formed what appeared to be a long narrow cage across the gorge. A large number of guy wires attached from the bridge to the cliff wall were utilized to counteract the effects of the wind.

Two men died on October 10th 1854 during the bridge construction when a scaffold holding four men collapsed.

On March 8th 1855, the first locomotive named “London” crossed the bridge. It was one of the largest engines of its time, weighing 23 tons. It crossed at a speed of 8 mph and caused a deflection of only three and one half inches at the center of the span.

The bridge cost $450,000 and became one of the world’s most famous bridges ever built by humans. Over a period of 25 years, an average of fifty trains a week crossed this bridge.

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