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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

Descriptive Summary

Creator - Compiler: Case, Clarence E., (Clarence Edwards), 1877-1961
Creator: Roebling, Washington Augustus, 1837-1926
Title: Washington A. Roebling family letters
Dates: circa 1820-1955
Quantity: 0.5 Linear feet in one oversize enclosure.
Text [Oversize]: 1992.020 1 of 1
Call Phrase: 1992.020
Sponsor: This collection was processed and described as part of the project, "Uncovering the Secrets of Brooklyn's 19th Century Past: Creation to Consolidation," funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with additional support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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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.

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Scope and Contents

Two bound volumes, together titled Some Roebling Letters and Incidental Matters, containing typescipt copies of letters of the Roebling family, particularly those of Washington A. Roebling. The letters were compiled circa 1955 by Clarence E. Case, executor of the will of Washington Roebling's son, John A. Roebling II. The letters span the period 1821 to 1927, with the majority dating from 1861 to 1868 and 1900 to 1926, and mostly detail Washington Roebling's experiences in the American Civil War and family matters and relationships, especially those with his father, John A. Roebling, and his wife, Emily. While other letters touch upon Washington Roebling's business and professional life, particularly relating to the family's wire-rope-making business in Trenton, N.J., very few letters seem to date from the period of Roebling's involvement with the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, though later letters do contain reflections on his experiences as Chief Engineer of the bridge. Most letters are between Washington and Emily Roebling, though several other Roebling family members and colleagues and friends of Washington's are represented. The second volume of letters closes with a bibliography of source material.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Roebling, Emily Warren, 1843-1903
  • Roebling, John Augustus, 1806-1869
  • Roebling, Washington Augustus, 1837-1926

Document Type

  • Correspondence
  • Volumes (documents by form)

Subject Organizations

  • John A. Roebling's Sons Company.

Subject Topics

  • Bridges
  • Engineering
  • Engineers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Families |z New Jersey |z Trenton
  • Families -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Families |z New York (State) |z Troy
  • Wire-rope industry -- New Jersey -- Trenton

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Bridge (New York, N.Y.)
  • Trenton (N.J.)
  • Troy (N.Y.)

Family Name(s)

  • Roebling family

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Washington A. Roebling family letters, 1992.020, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Related Materials

The Brooklyn Historical Society holds many other archival collections and information resources that document the construction and opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and the work of John A. and Washington A. Roebling. Please consult Othmer Library staff for more information on accessing these materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Source and date of acquisition unknown. Formally accessioned in 1992.

Processing Information note

Minimally processed to the collection level.

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