New York City is a city of landmark bridges. One hundred years ago this month, Hell Gate Bridge joined the New York skyline as the longest steel arch bridge in the world. The engineering feat attracted the attention of news photographers, as high over the treacherous strait known as Hell Gate in the East River, New Yorkers observed the progress of two large cranes creeping toward each other until they finally connected the arch. The cranes are lifting the final steel pieces in the photo below. Noted bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal’s engineering of Hell Gate was so accurate that adjustments of only 5/16 of an inch were required when the two spans finally met and the arch became self-supporting.
Hell Gate Bridge is a railroad bridge, and a peek through the arch of one of the masonry towers shows track being laid along the approach to the bridge:
In the photo below, Chief Engineer Lindenthal (center, no hat) and his team, including at his right, his assistant Othmar Ammann, pose with the nearly finished bridge. Ammann would go on to an illustrious career designing bridges as well, and the efforts of these two men resulted in ten of the best known bridges connecting New York to the rest of the world. Many of these bridges set records when built, pushing the boundaries of engineering and advancing bridge design around the world.
The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) contains documentation of thousands of engineering accomplishments, including many bridges. The two HAER photos below feature two examples of master bridge-builder Ammann’s later work in New York. The Bayonne Bridge took the title of longest steel arch bridge from Hell Gate when it was built in 1931. And in the second photo, you can see both the Hell Gate Bridge and its nearest neighbor, Ammann’s Triborough Bridge (now known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge).
The photo documentation of the Hell Gate Bridge spans two strengths of Prints and Photographs Division collections: photojournalism and architecture, design and engineering records. But the bridge inspired graphic artists, as well. Stay tuned for what turned up on the Hell Gate bridge in my search of our fine prints and drawings collections!
- Explore the photos taken of the Hell Gate Bridge by the Bain News Service of New York.
- Modern photos of the Hell Gate Bridge were taken as part of a survey for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER).
- Explore the documentation of Gustav Lindenthal’s Queensboro and Manhattan Bridges in HAER surveys. Othmar Ammann’s bridges in the Historic American Engineering Record include these notable New York bridges: Bayonne, Triborough, Verrazano-Narrows, and the George Washington Bridge.
- Browse 300 surveys of bridges in HAER, located using the Subjects Browse list for the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey collection.
- Read about and see photos of the Hell Gate Bridge in newspapers of New York through Chronicling America.
- A series of Visual Sourcebooks in Architecture, Design, and Engineering focused on the resources in the Prints and Photographs Division, and published by W. W. Norton & Co. in cooperation with the Library of Congress since 2003 includes Richard Cleary’s 2007 publication Bridges [view catalog record]. Have a look at the titles in the series.
Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly identified the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge as the John F. Kennedy Bridge.