Roebling Museum Showcases Engineer’s Contribution to Bridges

By Lauren Wanko

The majestic Golden Gate Bridge is synonymous with California. The Brooklyn Bridge is associated with the Empire State, not the Garden State. But, both famous structures have a significant connection to a small community in New Jersey — Roebling. Named after engineer John A. Roebling.

“Every suspension bridge that you see around the world now has learned from the technology and from the amazing design abilities and engineering of John A. Roebling,” said Roebling Museum Executive Director Varissa McMicken Blair.

In the 1800s the engineer immigrated to America and soon gained notoriety for producing wire rope for a railroad in Pennsylvania.

“Wire rope is a succession of pieces of individual wire turned, woven and spun together in order to create the strength of more than any fabric rope that you might consider. He then created and built an entire industry around that. Then from that, he transformed forever the way people build suspension bridges,” explained Blair.

In 1904, the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company purchased more than 200 acres of land in what is now Florence Township. They built a steel mill and an industrial village for workers. It’s here that they created everything from wire cables for dozens of bridges to elevator cables used in the Empire State Building.

“I love to talk about them as early recyclers,” said Blair.

It started with scrap metal and pig iron, which was transported on an intricate railroad system in the mill yard. It was moved into the steel mill and melted at over 3,000 degrees. It’s where they created the material used in the Golden Gate Bridge. A cross section of the bridge’s main cable is on display at the Roebling Museum, which opens to the public March 1.

“The John A. Roebling’s Sons Company was the company that in fact spun the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s an amazing process. They made the steel here, they made the wire here,” said Blair.

Workers pre-stretched the wire before it made the journey cross country, says Blair.

She said, “So, when they got that rope all the way to California, to the Golden Gate, they could hang that wire and it would be in exactly the place they knew. So, everything was pre-measured, pre-cut before it arrived in California.”

The company also designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge, says Blair.

She also told us, “The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the greatest accomplishments of the John A. Roebling Sons Company and the Roebling family. John Roebling fought for years to convince New York that they needed this bridge to connect these two amazing pieces of their city.”

The Roebling sons sold the company in the 1950s, but sold the homes on the property to the workers first so they could remain in the village. The community they built still stands today, along with their legacy.

“That legacy is our legacy, it’s the legacy of every bridge we cross, it’s the legacy of every piece of engineering we see, the way we design our cities, the way we build our homes, the way we build our communities,” said Blair.