Transportation History

January 2, 1842

In Philadelphia, the first major wire-cable suspension bridge in the United States was opened. The 358-foot (109-meter)-long bridge carried traffic over the Schuylkill River below Fairmount Dam. This bridge was designed and built by civil engineer Charles Ellet Jr. It replaced a bridge famously known as “The Colossus.” The earlier structure, which had the distinction of being the longest single-span wooden bridge up to that time in the United States, was opened in 1813 and destroyed by fire in 1838.

Charles Ellet, Jr. c. 1840

In terms of both scale and purpose, Ellet’s replacement bridge resembled permanent wire-cable suspension bridges that had already been constructed in Switzerland and France. (Incidentally, just a few miles upstream, a temporary iron-wire footbridge that made its debut in 1816 and stayed intact for less than a year is generally regarded as the first-ever wire-cable suspension bridge of any kind.) The 1842 bridge remained in…

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