Since Wire Rope Had Not Been Tried, Entrepreneur Roebling Had to Self-Finance His Innovation

(p. 178) It was a bridge across the Niagara that would change life for the nail and wire makers. In 1831 a German engineer had emigrated from Mühlhausen in Saxony to America, where he founded the city (p. 179) of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania (having refused to settle in the American South because of his views on slavery). He then worked as a farmer, as a surveyor on the Pennsylvania Canal and finally as a railway engineer. His name was John Roebling, and he had a strange obsession with wire ropes. Since nobody in America had ever tried to make that kind of rope, the idea was not easy to promote. After failing to interest the firm of Washburn & Company, in Worcester, Massachusetts (we will return to this firm in our story), in 1848 Roebling moved to Trenton, New Jersey, and set up on his own.

After practicing his technique on a number of small bridges in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Roebling finally got a contract for the 3,640 wires into a compact, uniformly tensioned wire cable. Then, using a kite to get the cable to the other side of the river, he went on to finish the first-ever wire suspension bridge, 821 feet in length and strong enough to take the full weight of a train. The bridge opened to rail traffic on March 16, 1855.

Because of his success at Niagara, Roebling’s cable-spinning technique soon became standard on all suspension bridges. He put his name in the history books with his next job: the Brooklyn Bridge.

Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible – and Other Journeys. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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