Part 1: The Brooklyn Bridge

A series on learning from bridge building

By Ray Bartell

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the seven wonders of the industrialised world. The bridge was designed by German born engineer John Augustus Roebling who died in the early phase of the project. His son Washington Roebling and daughter in law - Emily, took up the mantle and saw the project through to completion which now stands as a preeminent symbol of New York.
The construction of the bridge involved the use of pressurised caissons which were used to work on the foundations of the bridge. The conditions in these caissons were described as ‘miserable’ and ‘dangerous’. Many men died or turned very ill due to the uncompressed atmospheric conditions. Although Washington was the Chief Engineer, he regularly visited the caissons and worked alongside his workers, which cost him his health. He was confined to his room due to decompression sickness. The personal sacrifice made by Washington stands as a testimony of leaders who can roll up their sleeves, enter the place where the hard work is done and where great sacrifice is often made. 

As I think about this story I am reminded of Theodore Roosevelt’s inspirational and famous Arena Statement.

What can we learn from bridge building? - don’t expect to dare greatly and lead others without being prepared to make some personal sacrifices.