BrooklynBridgeasCulturalContext - mercially practical...

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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. Brooklyn Bridge as a Cultural Text ALAN TRACHTENBERG Departments of American Studies and English Yale University New Haven, Connecticut 05620 i A 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." 1 Like everyone 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.
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This note was uploaded on 04/01/2011 for the course HUMN 2124 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '11 term at Arkansas.

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BrooklynBridgeasCulturalContext - mercially practical...

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