January 21, 1904: Brooklyn Bridge builders suggest a suspension bridge over Duluth’s ship canal 

On this day in Duluth in 1904, J. A. Roebling & Sons of New Jersey—builder’s of the Brooklyn Bridge—sent S. A. Cooney to Duluth to try to convince city officials to build a suspension transfer bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal. He said a suspension bridge would be stronger, lighter, and less expensive than a stiff-trussed bridge as Duluth’s requirements specified. He also argued that a suspension bridge “would assist materially in beautifying the harbor entrance.” What the company failed to understand is that Duluth had not only already settled on a design, they had previously awarded the construction contract to another firm and intended to hire that firm again. However, legal complications forced the city to officially put the project back up for bid. Roebing & Sons weren’t the only ones to make that mistake. Joseph B. Strauss submitted plans for a transfer bridge whose ferry car actually rode up into the bridge’s superstructure, not a suspended car as plans called for. Its design also did not allow for a 136-foot height clearance requirement. Still, he kept writing Duluth City Engineer W. B. Patton asking that his idea be considered. Each time Patton said no, Strauss wrote back ever longer letters. When told the design would not work as submitted, he suggested lengthening his bridge, which would mean destroying existing foundations and building new ones, eliminate any cost savings. Strauss eventually gave up on his Duluth bridge, but he didn’t quit designing bridges: his creations include the Golden Gate Bridge. Read about how Duluth built the aerial transfer bridge here, and read how it was converted to today’s lift bridge here.

The Brooklyn Bridge, the work of J. A. Roebling & Sons. (Image: Public Domain)

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