mercially practical system that would, by embodying these qualities, bring
financial reward to all involved. That its ultimate technological success was
monumental, that its ultimate impact on society was beyond the monumen-
tal we may imagine were not really part of the inventor's original equation.
The problem was perceived by Edison as a pressing one, to which there
ought to be a rational, technical solution. Of the three men, he alone seems
to have started off essentially in the dark, so to speak, with no well-estab-
lished precedent of his own making to follow. He alone literally forced
himself into finding a solution by announcing
before the fact
that he pro-
posed "to invent the practical electric light."
Comparing it with the Grand Central Steam Engine and the incandescent
light, we see that only the Brooklyn Bridge, while in so many ways a super-
lative and legitimate monument, was the product of a natural evolutionary
process of engineering development. Only it grew out of a succession of
structures of ever-increasing magnitude, each firmly based on the hard
engineering proof of its predecessors. While bold beyond the ken even of
many of Roebling's engineering colleagues, by no means was the Brooklyn
Bridge the product of after-the-fact experimentation.
While the Brooklyn Bridge's monumentality was a fully conscious ele-
ment of Roebling's design, as clearly proclaimed by him initially, as were its
functional capabilities, its almost immediate acquisition of symbolic quali-
ties seems less easy to explain. The same thing can be said for the Centennial
Corliss Engine, and perhaps, too, even for the incandescent electric light.
The process by which a steam-driving engine, a system for lighting resi-
dential spaces by electricity, and a large bridge whose sole purpose was to
connect two major cities all were transformed into cultural symbols not
solidly related to their respective functional purposes is the essential theme
that has been addressed here.
Departments of American Studies and English
New Haven, Connecticut 05620
MONG THE CELEBRANTS of Brooklyn Bridge in May
1883, one voice
struck what might have seemed an oddly discordant note. It is a voice
little heard in these days of rededication and reverence for the old bridge and
its builders, and when heard, not always comprehended and appreciated. I
refer to Montgomery Schuyler, the most important critic of architecture of
his day, and to his article, "Brooklyn Bridge as a Monument."
else on that festive occasion, Schuyler hailed the bridge as "one of the me-
chanical wonders of the world, one of the greatest and most characteristic
of the monuments of the nineteenth century." Unlike the speakers at the
Opening Ceremonies, however, Schuyler did not proceed to draw lofty
conclusions about "progress" or the coming age of peace and reconciliation.