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Eric Shackle Writes: Hell Gate Bridge

Eric Shackle tells of a bridge which inspired engineers around the world.

To read more of Eric's columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/eric_shackle_writes/

Where in the world is this bridge?


If you answer "Sydney, Australia" you're wrong. If you guess "Newcastle, UK"
or "Auckland, New Zealand" you're still wrong. But if you say "New York
City" you've hit the jackpot. It's the Hell Gate Bridge, a 1,017-foot (310
m) steel arch carrying railroad traffic across part of the East River called
Hell Gate.

Its revoltionary design caused a stir when it opened officially on September
30, 1916. Doomsayers at the time predicted it would collapse, but it's still
in business, and will probably remain so for centuries. It inspired the
construction of similar bridges around the world.

The Hell Gate Bridge was designed by Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935), a
brilliant self-taught civil engineer. Born in Brno in what is now the Czech
Republic, he had first worked as a mason and carpenter. At 18, he moved to
Vienna, and found a job in the engineering department of a railroad company.

He never attended university, but taught himelf mathematics, engineering
theory, metallurgy, hydraulics, estimating, management, "and everything else
that a successful bridge engineer needed to know," quoting Henry Petroski's
book, "Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of

Lindenthal emigrated to the US in 1874. At first, he worked as a journeyman
stonemason for the memorial granite building of the Centennial International
Exhibition in Philadelphia, and later was employed by the Keystone Bridge
Co. on numerous projects before being recognized as a gifted bridge

It's thought his early memories of a famous bridge in Cologne (Koln),
Germany, http://www.planetware.com/picture/cologne-d-d229.htm inspired
his design for the Hell Gate Bridge.

Eminent bridge designers from other countries visited Lindenthal and
marvelled at his radical ideas. One of them was Australia's Dr. JJC
Bradfield, lead engineer in the New South Wales Department of Works. When
he returned home to Sydney from a six-month world tour in 1922,, he changed
the design for a Harbor bridge from an ugly cantilever to a graceful single-
arched steel structure.

Sydney Harbor Bridge (aka The Coathanger), opened in 1932, is the world's
largest but not longest steel arch bridge. Its total length, including
approach spans, is 1149 metres and its arch span 503 metres. Its top is 134
metres high.

People had talked about building a bridge from the northern to the southern
shore of the harbor since 1815, when the then colony's Government Architect,
Francis Greenway. thought of one being needed one day.

Various designs were considered and discarded for more than a century. Then
in 1922 a general design was prepared by Bradfield and officers of the NSW
Department of Public Works. The Government called for worldwide tenders to
build the bridge. The contract was let to Dorman Long and Co of
Middlesbrough, UK.

Construction began in 1924, took eight years. and employed 1,400 men. Six
million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel were used. The bridge
now carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad tracks.

The Bridge was officially opened on March 19, 1932. Before Premier JT Lang
could cut the ribbon, Captain Francis de Groot , a member of a right-wing
political group called The New Guard, rode up on his horse and slashed the
ribbon with his sword. He thought the Bridge should be opened by a member
or representative of the Royal Family.

Police arrested him, and the Premier cut the hastily repaired ribbon with a
pair of gold scissors.

The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England is a smaller version of the
Sydney Harbor Bridge, with a length of 397 metres and the main span 161

"There is much controversy surrounding the two bridges, and which one may
have been a model for the other," says an Australian Government website.

"Although the Tyne Bridge was opened in 1928 - four years before the Harbour
Bridge was opened - the tender was submitted and contract signed for the
Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1924. The designs for the Harbour Bridge were
put forward by Dr. J C Bradfield before this date. The tender for the Tyne
Bridge was accepted and contract signed later that year in December 1924."

Three final points:
Actor/comedian Paul Hogan was once a rigger on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
A few weeks ago, the luxury liner Queen Mary II, the largest ship to visit
Sydney, was too tall to go under the Harbour Bridge and too long to dock at
the International Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay.

The world's longest steel arch is the Lupu Bridge
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupu_Bridge 550m. (1804ft.) in Shanghai,
China, according to a list of longest spans published by Wikipedia


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