A Great Big City

March 30 in History: The Queensboro Bridge Opens

Queensboro Bridge, 1930s
Queensboro Bridge, 1930s via NY Public Library Public Domain Collection

Midtown Manhattan and Long Island City were officially linked on March 30, 1909 as the Queensboro Bridge opened to vehicular traffic.

While the Brooklyn Bridge may be the backdrop to vacation photos worldwide, no other NYC bridge hits as close to the heart when it comes to the name used for a certain borough-connecting structure. Whether it's the "Queensboro Bridge", "59th Street Bridge", "Ed Koch Bridge", or even "Blackwell's Island Bridge", the name applied to the span can give a good indication of which generation the speaker spent in New York!

On opening day, the bridge was regaled as "one of the greatest structures in the world" and would hold the title of longest cantilever span in North America until 1917. At a cost approaching $20 million, the bridge opened with an array of road surfaces, trolley tracks, train tracks, and walking paths. Of great concern during construction was the amount of weight the bridge could safely hold, and changes in design were made to bring the weight down. Ten thousand onlookers gathered at the Manhattan side as Mayor McClellan drove his automobile from City Hall to Midtown and crossed the bridge, meeting Queens borough officials in the middle. After the mayor returned to Manhattan, the police let the crowd free and many rushed to be the first to walk across the bridge.

Did you know? The New-York Tribune from March 31, 1909 mentioned that the mayor had to buy a toll ticket at the Manhattan side of the bridge, so there was originally a toll to cross the bridge. Recent proposals have suggested putting tolls on the East River bridges, but Mayor Ed Koch, at the re-naming ceremony for the bridge in 2011 said "If there is any mention of putting a toll on that bridge, I shall run down to the bridge like Horatio and stand there with a sword to stop it!"

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