The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, named for the civil engineer who designed it, has been an iconic Cincinnati suspension bridge along the city skyline for nearly a century and a half. When the Roebling Suspension Bridge opened to traffic on January 1, 1867, its 1,057-foot span made it the longest suspension bridge in the world, a record it retained until 1883 when Roebling’s most famous project, the Brooklyn Bridge opened.
From the moment construction began in September 1856, Roebling and his crew faced challenges. The Ohio River proved to be a force of nature that often made digging impossible when construction crews hit bedrock or pumps couldn’t keep up with the mud, clay and water that refilled holes as soon as they were dug. Funds often ran short for materials. Flooding halted work many times, and the biggest interruption of all arrived with the start of the Civil War when men, money and materials were needed for the fight. Interestingly, the war also was the impetus to finish the project when it became apparent the region needed a reliable and fast way to cross the river.
In the end, the bridge proved an engineering marvel, the first of its kind to employ several new bridge-building techniques. Its most impressive feature: the two main cables, each containing 5,180 individual wires imported from England. A second set of cables was added in 1896 to support even heavier loads.
Although the Roebling span shares the riverfront with several bridges today, it remains a major thoroughfare for pedestrians and vehicles. Many use it to get to work each day or as the path of choice to enjoy the bars and restaurants along both the Covington and Cincinnati riverfronts. And fans headed to Great American Ball Park, U.S. Bank Arena or Paul Brown Stadium often line the bridge’s walkways after parking on the Kentucky side. The suspension bridge also provides the best view of the Cincinnati cityscape, especially at night when thousands of lights illuminate downtown. It’s a scene that has changed and evolved time and time again over the years, while the bridge remains a constant and a vital link to Cincinnati’s history.
Written by: Kathleen Doane