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tv   Chief Engineer  CSPAN  October 1, 2017 6:40am-7:31am EDT

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when i want to give up, he helps me go on. i know that nothing can be done perfectly at the first trial, he once wrote. i also know each day brings its middle quota of experiences, which, with honest intentions, will lead to perfection after a while. so that's just a little bit about how this remarkable structure came to be built all those years ago. a structure that has endured
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with some but notmuch alteration from that day to this . i thought i'd read you also a little bit from the book. as i mentioned in my talk, emily roebling washington's wife was a truly remarkable woman. when he became very ill in the 1870s, the episode i just read to you was the beginning of his sickness. he got much, much sicker after that. in 1973 and 1875, he really thought that he would die. he didn't die. he remained in control of the bridge but emily was his extraordinary mn events is, helping him, going down to the bridge consulting with the other engineers, truck talking to the trustees, doing all the complicated politics that washington didn't like anyway himself
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and probably wouldn't have been particularly good at. she was an astonishing woman in her own right and he met her during the civil war which is also a fascinating period in washington's life so i thought i would tell you about their meeting. they met not long after the battle of gettysburg. that was in july 1863. in very late november and early december 1863, in orange county virginia, admiral mead made an attempt to strike at the right flank of the confederate army. of the old fortifications lee had prepared in the little valley valley of mine run from proved a match for the union army as washington himself along with general warren, his commanding officer, discovered personally.
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at break of dawn by light of the moon warren and i crawled on our knees close to these works, sound and fully man, built the year before, no assault could have succeeded. 10,000 men would have been slaughtered. pine run was lost the day before when the work was unoccupied and we could have walked in and waited for nothing. despite the mud and the slaughter, some divers and was to be found. on separate 22nd 1864, washington roebling found himself invited to a ball. you know the third core had a ball some six weeks sense and the second was the german wouldn't back fall into the same entirely, he wrote four days later to his sister albina, his closest confidant in such matters. the evening was as far as washington was concerned a spectacular success. hours suffer cost $1500 and was furnished by parties in washington. the most prominent ladies of washington were present from
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ms. hamlin, daughter of the vice president, kate face, a striking, politically powerful daughter of salmon p chase, lakeland treasury secretary, it's interesting to think about powerful government dollars right now, i'm dropping that in their and mrs. hill bound, hail girl for the daughters of the center from new hampshire but these women were not the reason or washington's letter to his sister. last but not least was miss emily warren, sister of the general who came specially from west point to attend the ball. it was the first time i ever saw her and i am very much of the opinion that she has captured your brothers heart at last. it was a real attack in force. it came without any warning or previous realization on my part of such an occurrence taking place and it was therefore all the more successful and i assure you it gives me the greatest pleasure to say thati have
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succumbed . what they said to each other that night, the way they danced, what she was wearing, the gleam of the candlelight on the buttons ofhis officers tunic , all this is lost but washington's lines to his sister are true and clear. bill, he wasn't right ready for the news to get out. don't go like a great big goose and show this letter to everyone, will you dear? he admonished his younger sister. you are my favorite sister you know, just as she is the general's favorite sister and can appreciate my feelings. i can appreciate your feelings at reading this letter and await your cd letter with impatience. headded a postscript, just the kind of detail a young man knows about his beloved . she just a sore throat once
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in a while and is additionally charming therefore. he signed himself off as ever, your affectionate brother wash . thank you very much. [applause] >> i think we are going to take questions but i think what we are going to do this year is to ask you to come up to the microphone. >> you have to be quite brave to come up to the microphone. >> any first questions? >> be brave. >> i told you everything you want to know? i must be so wonderful. what year was the bridge completed? it was completed in 1883 so 134 years ago. that's right, that was pretty spectacular, exactly. gentleman up there.
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i think we now have a roving mike, thank you. could you come down? >> i'll repeat it if you need to but what's the question? >> i was very touched by a package at the end of his life. there was a nice blooming spirit. did you come across the original documentation for that story? >> the question is the gentleman said he was very moved at the end of david mccullough writes about the end of washington roebling's life. he died 89 years old and one of his last letters, he wrote about a night blooming cirrus
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flowers he saw that moved him very much and the gentleman wanted to know if i saw the original documentation. yes, i did and the really remarkable thing about writing this book was having the privilege to see not only that but all of the documentation about washington's long's one of the great pleasures of being in an archive is feeling that you are holding pieces of paper that your subject held. it's interesting to think generations from now when everything is on email and e-file, nobody writes letters anymore, it will be a very different thing . i'll just take the liberty of adding, you come across unexpected things when you are doing thisresearch so when i was at rpi , the letter you are describing is
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at rutgers in new jersey but when i was at rpi in upstate new york where washington went to college, there are records of some lands that john roebling, washington's father marched. and in the late 1850s john roebling decided as well as being an engineer he was also going to be a farmer in the iowa territory but he bought this land from former soldiers and the soldiers that bought the land at a very cheap rate. you got a special deal if you'd been in the army, you could buy land for not much money at all. the catch was if you want to sell this land to somebody else , the president of the united states had to sign the deed. and john roebling ought some land in august of 1861, and i'm looking through this file which i got to say i think
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it's going to be a boring file and i'm not interested in this anyway and there is the deed with the bold signature of abraham lincoln on it. that's the kind of moments that you have in an archive and it's extraordinary to think when he signed this deed 150 acres for a parcel of land, the civil war had been going on for four or five months as he was having to do all this paperwork, someone was putting a stack of these land deeds on his desk and he still had to find them all. that's why it's amazing working in an archive. long answer to your question, i hope you don't mind. this lady here. there we go did emily have any formal training as an engineer? >> she had no formal training. >> she learned on the job? >> she was really very fascinated. his site was badly affected and also, he couldn't stand
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to be around anybody at all except for her. so she took all of his dictation, given that everything that happened then had to be communicated by writing. you couldn't call anybody on the phone andexplain what needed to be done . so everything was done by letters to the trustees, to his assistant engineers and you can tell if you know his writing well as i do that it's his writing, it's his voice but at some point and i think it's a late 1875 as i recall, it's no longer his handwriting, it's hers. she's taking his dictation. she was a smart woman and it's important to note that her older brother, general warren, washington's commanding officer loved her very much and believed she
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should be educated . so he had paid for her to go to school and go to a really good school so she was well equipped to do this. so she had no formal training but she absolutely learned deeply from what her husband was doing. >> is there any documentation about? >> she was a forceful woman. she was a remarkable woman and there's a plaque to her of course on the bridge. anybody else? this young man up there. >> what was the year when he died was the question. hedied in 1926. he was 89 . there was a woman all the way over there.
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>> i was wondering if you could talk about the conditions of building the bridge and what it was like to be in the process. >> like the workers? the question was what were the conditions like for the workers who were building the brooklyn bridge.not very good is a brief answer to that question. in the 19th century, health and safety was not a big thing at all. it's worth saying that conditions on the brooklyn bridge were better than on many equivalent structures. washington was aware it wasn't just him that was getting sick, the men were getting sick as well and he hired a doctor, a man called andrew smith to try to look after the men who were starting to suffer from khe
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san disease. andrew smith did not figure out, he almost did what was causing this mysterious illness but he tried to tend to the men. part of the problem was, you couldn't keep all of the men. they came to work and wanted to rush off home. there were no unions, it was a casual labor force. there were other kinds of accidents as well, accidents with stone and the men who made the table, all the work up there, they tended to be ships rigors, they were accustomed to working high up. so as i say, in the 19th century on any work site, the safety and security of the men working was never a top priority so it was pretty awful. anybody else? there's a gentleman in front here,excellent . thank you verymuch .
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>>. [inaudible] the political unification of the two cities because i understand it increased the population a lot but i'm wondering if that will catalyze tourism in brooklyn and new york the question is how much did the completion of the bridge lead to the unification of new york and brooklyn. and the growth of brooklyn as a city because really a lot of it was still farmland early from the 1860s. i can see some of that little bit. yes, absolutely is the answer. of course, before the bridge was built you had to go across by ferry. the new york times estimated that 70 million ferry crossings were made every year. and of course the fairies
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couldn't run if the river was icy. there were very accidents so the brooklyn bridge was the beginning of the linking of manhattan and brooklyn and absolutely it led to both the further growth of brooklyn and i believe it was in 1898 that brooklyn became part of greater new york. so it is absolutely true that the brooklyn bridge played a crucial role in that process. anyone else? >> i don't use the word adjusted for cars or when was the first car on the bridge? >> did the bridge have to be adjusted for cars, yes. the bridges had a few adjustments for the years. the main one was in the late 1940s early 1950s, done by an engineer called steinman who
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strengthened ... if you look at photographs of the brooklyn bridge before that time, there's a beautiful photograph of the brooklyn bridge, the whole span of the bridge that was taken in 1925 by a man called irving underhill. washington loved photographs, he got hold of it the year before he died and he's written on the back of this good print, keep this my album in his neat handwriting. but if you look at that photograph, you will see that the truss work around the roadway is much finer. the roadway looks a little more delicate. you could say it was a bit more beautiful, i still think it's plenty beautiful. although it was strengthened, i'm sure you know you can't drive a truck over the brooklyn bridge so it still has a weight limit on it. and of course when it opened
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two, there were trains that went across it. trains that were not part of the network of transportation, but almost a cable car that went back and forth. there was a station in brooklyn and a station in new york and you can see these trains and they stop running in the 50s. there's a remarkable film, if you go on to the library of congress website, if you google library of congress, edison, brooklyn bridge, you will see a minute long movie taken in 1898, one of the earliest movies ever taken from the front car of the train going from brooklyn to new york. it's an amazingthing . you can't put a movie in a book that i was sorry i didn't get that in. you had all kinds of adjustments as i'm sure you know, it's had a big half $1
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million facelift. i think new york from the people that i talked to tends to be a little bit better at looking after its infrastructure. i know, that goes to show how bad a lot of it is all over the country but we have quite a lot of famous infrastructure. people know that you have to look after the brooklyn bridge but yes, it's withstood those changes but part of the reason it's withstood those changes was because when it was designed, it was designed to be much, much stronger than it needed to be at the time. so that cable for design had to be six times as strong as it needed to be to hold up the bridge so that's part of the reason it's been able to have thisextraordinary long life . anybody else?
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>> stronger than they needed to be quite why did he make the cables six times as strong as they needed to be, good question. really because suspension bridge building was still in its infancy. the thing about bridges in the 19th century was that they fell down. and lots of people thought that it was not possible to build this bridge. plenty of people believed such a thing couldn't be done, the span was too far. it would have to be too big and too heavy, nothing could hold this up. i believe it was partly to convince people to say look, it's really not going to fall down. this is how strong the cables are and that was if you look in contemporary newspapers of the time, particularly we have a gentleman here this evening representing the
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brooklyn eagle line. the eagle was a great supporter of the bridge from its earliest days, the editor .this was a great idea and so you can see it's articles that were presented to the public in how it was shown to be that it would be safe to cross. >> what did he do in between 1883 and 1926. >> what did he do between 1883 and 1926. i'm not going to say, you have to read the book but i will tell you a little. it's a good question because he never built another bridge. his health was badly affected . it's hard to know how much of what afflicted him was physical and how much was psychological. i think you have to be careful of retrospective diagnosis. he had a brutal upbringing and he suffered pretty badly
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during the american civil war . he did not build another bridge . he was very involved in the family firm. the roebling family major portion was in the wire that built the brooklyn bridge although the main cables are not made from roebling wire but john roebling patented wire rope in america. that's just wrote with wire and of course he was an able not just to get suspension bridges to be built but elevators, telegraphs, airplanes, automobiles, hugely important products for the growth of the united states and the world in the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th and his company was the biggest company in the united states to manufacture this stuff.
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washington was very involved in the company . he also was passionate geologist. he was a geologist and a mineral corrector and he had one of the best mineral collections in the country and he gave it after he died to the smithsonian where it really is the foundation of theirremarkable collection . but when he was 84, 1921, he was always involved with the family firm but he didn't take a salary. he just advised his brothers and kept an eye on what was going on. in 1921, despite complaining all his life of his terrible health, outlived his one younger brother and another younger brother. two of his nephews and at the age of 84 he took over the presidency of john a roebling company and ran it for four years, went into the office
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every day and he modernized in the years before his death . sorry, come back. >> i'm wondering how did they manage, is there a roebling company now? >> it's how did they manage through the depression. it's really not that the depression didn't affect them but family firms got swallowed up by a huge component, there's the story. the roebling family firm shelled out much longer than many mature often do and if you find yourself here in trenton new jersey, i urge you to visit the roebling museum and it's a gorgeous
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little museum on the site of the former mill and it's really lovely and it's a beautiful site the cause the mill was all cleaned up. there's a beautiful card as well at the museum. >> you hinted that washington was traumatized by his father john and that he wrote about that. do we need your book to find out more? >> i have hinted about washington was traumatized by his father john . yes, he was traumatized by his father john. when he was an older man, 50s and then in his 70s, washington sat down to write a biography of his father. it should be said that washington roebling really admired his father.
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he believed his father was a great man and john roebling was a great man. he was one of the giants of the 20th century who had vision that other people did not have. he was a person of extraordinary energy and drive and incentive. he built his whole industry from nothing. washington admired him tremendously which is why he sat down to write the biography of his father. the extraordinary thing about this manuscript which vanished for a long time is that he couldn't help writing about himself. he keeps writing about himself and his childhood and indeed the civil war but when he writes about himself and his childhood, what he also can't help writing about is is father's shocking brutality. it's really frightening to read. of course, it's one man's
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account, it's washington's account. but what i felt reading it is i thought of washington roebling in his 50s at the age of 70, he wrote it in two chunks. by this point he was an extremely wealthy, successful man, the first citizen living in an in honest mansion on state street, an incredible house, enormously well-respected. and yes, when he turned to his childhood, these terrible memories came up, so you never know really what goes on in a family, in a life but in washington's mind and heart and soul, the stuff was right there. and it's very moving to read because it's not just this horror show.
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as i say, he admires his father. he keeps coming back to that and that he wants to persist with this account of his father's important life. [applause] >> i want to say thank you everyone for coming out and thank you erica. i want to stress that as great a historian as she is, she's a wonderful writer and what you are missing by not reading the book is quite a bit. around if you'd like to get a copy. and don't forget that next day there will be another event but thank you again. >> here's a look at upcoming
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book fairs and festivals around the country. in october we all live for two days of talks of the southern festival of books in nashville. later in october there are two books on the same weekend, in thenortheast it's the ninth annual boston book festivaland in the south , the louisiana book festival will take place in baton rouge and in november the wisconsin book festival in madison .


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