Niagara Suspension Bridges

Image: Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. Source: Courtesy of the Kume Museum of Art.

During their stay in New York the delegates made a trip north toward the Canadian border to visit Niagara Falls. Kunitake Kume made detailed descriptions of the falls in his diaries, mentioning the waterwheel and two suspension bridges that had been built over the Whirlpool Gorge downriver. The delegates crossed one of the suspension bridges, high and narrow above the water. Kume exclaimed, “When the bridge shook, we were all terrified!”

Image: Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge
Source: Courtesy of the Kume Museum of Art.

The first of the suspension bridges, the Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge, was designed by John A. Roebling and completed in 1855. The bridge could support enough weight for trains to cross, previously thought impossible for suspension bridges. It was a major engineering feat! The second bridge was the Niagara Falls and Clifton Suspension Bridge, completed in 1869. Roebling’s success wasn’t over – he went on to build the Brooklyn Bridge only a few years later.

Image: Currier, Nathaniel and Charles Parsons. The Rail road suspension bridge near Niagara Falls / John A. Roebling, Esq. engineer ; C. Parsons del. Currier & Ives (New York, NY), 1856. Photograph. Library of Congress.

The delegates’ impression of the incredible bridges has lived on, and today Japan possesses the longest central-span suspension bridge in the world. The Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, connecting Kobe and Awaji Island, spans more than 1.2 miles between its towers.

Image: New Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls, 1860.
Source: Library of Congress.

Kunitake, Kume. “The Journey Through the Northern States, 2.” In Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe, edited by Chushichi Tsuzuki and R. Jules Young, 79-82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Griggs, Frank, Jr. “John A Roebling’s Niagara River Railroad Suspension Bridge – 1855.” Structure Magazine, June 2016.

Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and American Society of Civil Engineers. “Bridges of Niagara.” Accessed February 17, 2022.

Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway Company Limited. “Introduction of the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Project.” Accessed February 17, 2022.