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Guide to the Washington A. Roebling family letters 1992.020

128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Nicholas Pavlik

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 22, 2011
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical Note

Washington Augustus Roebling (1837-1926) was an engineer who oversaw the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge after his father, John A. Roebling, the designer of the bridge, died in 1869. After growing up in Saxonburg, PA and Trenton, N.J., Washington Roebling studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., from which he graduated in 1857. Roebling then assisted his father in running the family's wire rope manufacturing business in Trenton, which later became known as John A. Roebling's Sons Company, and also assisted his father in the construction of a suspension bridge across the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh, PA. Roebling later served in the Sixth New York Artillery during the Civil War, in which his main duty was to construct adaptable bridges for the Union Army. After receiving an honorable discharge as a Colonel in 1865, Roebling married Emily Warren, whom he had met at an army camp in Virginia while she was visiting her brother. He then assisted his father in the construction of the Cincinnati and Covington Bridge in Cincinnati, OH, which was completed in 1867, when John A. Roebling was appointed Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. Though Washington Roebling became Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge upon his father's death in 1869, in 1872 he began suffering severe physical effects of decompression sickness, or the bends, as a result of working in the caissons below the East River during the construction of the bridge's towers. Roebling never fully recovered from his illness, and beginning in December of 1872, Roebling was never again able to visit the bridge site. Instead, he oversaw construction of the bridge using a telescope from the window of his home on Columbia Heights in Brooklyn, and taught his wife Emily in the fundamentals of bridge engineering, so that she could serve as a knowledgeable and authoritative messenger between her husband and the bridge staff. The Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed in 1883 and opened to great fanfare, and since that time the bridge has remained one of New York City's most recognizable and revered architectural icons. In 1883, Washington Roebling retired from engineering and moved with his family to Troy, N.Y., where he resided until his death.


  1. Penn State University. "Roebling, Washington Augustus." Accessed June 16, 2011.