Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which spans the Hudson River for 2.7 miles, became the world’s longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1964. The bridge remains an aesthetic and engineering marvel.

Summary of Event

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge stretches 4,176 meters (2.7 miles) across the Hudson River, connecting Staten Island with Brooklyn. In 1964, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with 2,039 meters (6,690 feet) suspended and 1,298 meters (4,258 feet) in the main span. Verrazano-Narrows Bridge[Verrazano Narrows Bridge] Bridges [kw]Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens (Nov. 21, 1964)[Verrazano Narrows Bridge Opens] [kw]Bridge Opens, Verrazano-Narrows (Nov. 21, 1964) Verrazano-Narrows Bridge[Verrazano Narrows Bridge] Bridges [g]North America;Nov. 21, 1964: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens[08270] [g]United States;Nov. 21, 1964: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens[08270] [c]Engineering;Nov. 21, 1964: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens[08270] [c]Architecture;Nov. 21, 1964: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens[08270] [c]Transportation;Nov. 21, 1964: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens[08270] [c]Urban planning;Nov. 21, 1964: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opens[08270] Ammann, Othmar Moses, Robert Murphy, John Roebling, John Augustus

Connecting Staten Island efficiently to the more populated areas of New York City fulfilled a dream of three centuries duration. Irregular boat traffic had been the connecting link until the half-hour-long ferry ride began in 1871. As early as 1888, talk of a railroad tunnel had been broached seriously in governmental circles. In 1923, the city of New York began a railroad-automobile tunnel, only to halt digging after six months and $500,000.

Robert Moses, New York’s commissioner of parks, made the bridge linking Staten Island and Brooklyn a part of a $600-million package along with the Throgs Neck Bridge and a double deck for the George Washington Bridge ($300 million for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge). Moses’s support helped overcome all opposition, even that of including Verrazano as part of the name. Giovanni de Verrazano Verrazano, Giovanni de had established a claim to have some structure in the bay named for him because he had been the first to cruise it in 1524. Opponents did not want a difficult name to spell. Moses’s addition of “Narrows” to the name made it more feasible.

Opposition primarily came from neighborhoods in each borough that the bridge would destroy. On Staten Island, three hundred buildings and thirty-five hundred people were affected; but their opposition, while noisy, lacked the vehemence and political appeal present in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn (seven thousand people, eight hundred buildings). Moses prevailed over Joseph T. Sharkey, Democratic boss of Brooklyn; the Save Bay Ridge Association; strong press opposition; and numerous court fights. On December 31, 1958, plans for the bridge were made final, and construction began on January 16, 1959. Opinions in Brooklyn ran so high that the ground-breaking ceremony took place on Staten Island amid charges that public officials had sold out their neighbors for “progress.”

For the next five years, the bridge construction was plagued with controversy. In 1959, Moses’s awarding of a $20-million contract to a construction firm that employed his son-in-law prompted much anger, as did the continual noise of construction. On March 29, 1961, two hundred Staten Islanders charged that the noise between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. ruined their sleep and violated antinoise ordinances.

After three workers fell to their deaths, the bridge workers struck the project, seeking safety nets. On December 6, 1963, after four days on strike, the workers got their nets, which ended up saving three men in the next nine months. The opening ceremony was boycotted by members of the Iron Workers Union because of the failure of any workers who built the bridge to be included in the festivities. Instead, they attended a mass for the three workers who died.

Controversy aside, the bridge itself is an elegant example of Othmar Ammann’s ability to find a technical solution for his aesthetics. Ammann in 1959 was well known as the world’s finest bridge engineer, combining great aesthetic judgment with high performance. Verrazano-Narrows incorporated his basic bridge design vision of a light and graceful structure suspended between plain, massive, and monumental towers. In Verrazano-Narrows, Ammann produced a simple, clear-cut form that is austere almost to a fault.





So massive was the bridge design that Ammann had to account not only for strength and stress factors and for deflection but also for the curvature of the earth. The two 211-meter-high (696 feet) towers, although exactly perpendicular to the earth’s surface, would have to be 3.8 centimeters (1 5/8 inches) farther apart at the summits. The towers, containing 188,000 tons of steel, would, nevertheless, be restless structures. Precision measuring would always be done at night because, on hot summer days, the sunny side would warp, causing it to be lower than the shady side.

By early spring of 1962, the long and undramatic, yet vital process of erecting the foundations was finished, and the two towers were going up. John Murphy served as the superintendent of construction at this point. The foundations were concrete blocks the height of ten-story buildings, triangular-shaped and holding within their hollows the ends of the cable strands that stretch across the bridge. It took more than two years to complete the foundations at a twenty-four-hour-a-day pace.

Spinning began in March, 1963. Four spinning wheels, each weighing several hundred pounds, ran simultaneously across the two catwalks, each more than 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) long. Each wheel was double-grooved, carrying and laying two wires at once and taking twelve minutes to cross the bridge. Clamping took place as the wheels passed overhead. When 428 wires had crossed the bridge, the wires were bound into a strand. Hydraulic jacks squeezed sixty-one strands into a cylindrical shape, a cable. Each cable (the Verrazano-Narrows had four) was 1 meter (3.3 feet) thick, 2,196 meters (7,205 feet) long, and contained 57,935 kilometers (36,000 miles) of pencil-thin wire. From each cable, 262 suspender ropes—some as long as 136 meters (446 feet)—were hung to hold up the deck.

Both decks (Ammann put the lower second deck in place as an added safety feature) were completed in September, 1964. Dedication occurred on November 21, when Ammann was honored as the greatest living bridge engineer, perhaps even the greatest of all time. The success of any engineering project is measured by the lack of any dramatic history, and other than the social and political controversies, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that Ammann designed has had a very undramatic history.


The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge achieved one objective exactly as its staunchest proponents had claimed that it would—it ended the isolation of New York’s smallest borough, Staten Island. As a result, the Staten Island population almost immediately began to increase at a rate of seventeen hundred people per month as compared to a prebridge rate of increase of two hundred per year. This rapid increase continued until 1980, after which the increase leveled off to approximately twelve thousand people per year.

A second deck that was completed in November, 1964, with the original construction was originally intended to open to traffic in 1981. Ammann had designed the bridge with practical considerations in mind. Building the second deck in the original package saved $50 million and produced a significantly enhanced safety margin. Typically, completed bridges attract many more vehicles than planners anticipate. Verrazano-Narrows was no exception. In 1965, 34 percent more vehicles used the bridge than anticipated, and in 1967, 24 million vehicles used the bridge, 50 percent more than predicted. As a result, the second deck was quickly readied for use by June 29, 1969, at the relatively low cost of $14 million. Twenty years later, the two decks carried 84 million vehicles.

Such vastly increased traffic between Staten Island and Brooklyn left its toll on the island just as the bridge left its toll on Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section. The neighborhood never recovered from the uprooting of its residents by the Brooklyn end of the bridge. For Staten Island, the bridge helped produce the type of modern problems—crowded public facilities, land booms, traffic jams, increased crime, juvenile gangs, and environmental deterioration—that Staten Island had previously avoided. On the other hand, while polls taken from 1968 to 1984 indicated that there was ambivalence in Staten Islanders’ attitudes toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and its consequences, a strong majority (65 percent) believed that the benefits outweighed the problems. The sense that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge represented progress overcame early opposition. Access to cultural amenities, sophisticated health care facilities, and the savings in time and money were some of the advantages.

Although Verrazano-Narrows is no longer the world’s longest suspension bridge, it remains a beautiful example of a bridge style that James Finley introduced in the early 1800’s with wooden towers and suspension chains. Charles Ellet and John Augustus Roebling pioneered the use of iron-wire cables and stone towers and set the standards for both beauty and utility in suspension bridges. Ammann pursued a vision for slender beauty.

Ammann died two years after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened, so that project stands as the last, and quite possibly the best, in his long career. He was honored by Switzerland, his birthplace, in a 1979 postage stamp depicting him and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Verrazano-Narrows Bridge[Verrazano Narrows Bridge] Bridges

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bakkt, Baidar. Bridge Analysis Simplified. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985. Interesting because of the insights into the resolution of the problem of maintaining artistic qualities without sacrificing safety or convenience. For a wide audience.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Billington, David P. The Tower and the Bridge: The New Art of Structural Engineering. New York: Basic Books, 1983. Billington has written extensively about engineering and the social context of technology. Places the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into the evolutionary pattern of bridge designing and bridge construction. Discusses the relationship of aesthetic considerations with structural considerations. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a significant part of the discussion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Jeff L. “Landmarks in American Civil Engineering History.” Civil Engineering 72, nos. 11/12 (2002). An overview of major civil engineering projects in the United States, including the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kassler, Elizabeth B. The Architecture of Bridges. New York: Arno Press, 1972. While not ignoring the engineering and other technical aspects of bridges, focuses on the architectural features. Particularly strong on the relationship of art to function, of beauty to utility, and of appearances to practicality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rastorfer, Darl. Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. A well-illustrated biographical study of Ammann’s career, with a full treatment of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Talese, Gay. The Bridge. 1964. New ed. New York: Walker, 2002. In this now-classic book, former New York Times reporter Talese focuses on the people who built the bridge and their relationships with others and with the surrounding environment. Places all the technical aspects from the designing phase to construction techniques into a context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wittfoht, Hans. Building Bridges: History, Technology, Construction. Dusseldorf, Germany: Betowverlag, 1984. Places the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into the broad context of great bridges in the world. Notes how the building of such a long span demanded perfection in both design and building techniques.

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Categories: History