The Manhattan Bridge
, connecting Manhattan
in New York City, opened in 1909 and is considered to be the forerunner of modern suspension bridges; its design served as the model for many of the long-span suspension bridges around the world.
The earliest suspension bridges were ropes slung across a chasm, with a deck possibly at the same level or hung below the ropes such that the rope had a catenary shape.
The Tibetan saint and bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo originated the use of iron chains in his version of simple suspension bridges. In 1433, Gyalpo built eight bridges in eastern Bhutan. The last surviving chain-linked bridge of Gyalpo's was the Thangtong Gyalpo Bridge in Duksum en route to Trashi Yangtse, which was finally washed away in 2004. Gyalpo's iron chain bridges did not include a suspended deck bridge which is the standard on all modern suspension bridges today. Instead, both the railing and the walking layer of Gyalpo's bridges used wires. The stress points that carried the screed were reinforced by the iron chains. Before the use of iron chains it is thought that Gyalpo used ropes from twisted willows or yak skins. He may have also used tightly bound cloth.
The first iron chain suspension bridge in the Western world was the Jacob's Creek Bridge (1801) in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, designed by inventor James Finley. Finley's bridge was the first to incorporate all of the necessary components of a modern suspension bridge, including a suspended deck which hung by trusses. Finley patented his design in 1808, and published it in the Philadelphia journal, The Port Folio, in 1810.
Early British chain bridges included the Dryburgh Abbey Bridge (1817) and 137 m Union Bridge (1820), with spans rapidly increasing to 176 m with the Menai Bridge (1826), "the first important modern suspension bridge". The first chain bridge on the German speaking territories was the Chain Bridge in Nuremberg.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge (designed in 1831, completed in 1864 with a 214 m central span) is one of the longest of the parabolic arc chain type. The current Marlow suspension bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark and was built between 1829 and 1832, replacing a wooden bridge further downstream which collapsed in 1828. It is the only suspension bridge across the non-tidal Thames. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, spanning the River Danube in Budapest, was also designed by William Clark and it is a larger scale version of Marlow bridge.
An interesting variation is Thornewill and Warham's Ferry Bridge in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire (1889), where the chains are not attached to abutments as is usual, but instead are attached to the main girders, which are thus in compression. Here, the chains are made from flat wrought iron plates, eight inches (203 mm) wide by an inch and a half (38 mm) thick, rivetted together.
The first wire-cable suspension bridge was the Spider Bridge at Falls of Schuylkill (1816), a modest and temporary footbridge built following the collapse of James Finley's nearby Chain Bridge at Falls of Schuylkill (1808). The footbridge's span was 124 m, although its deck was only 0.45 m wide.
Development of wire-cable suspension bridges dates to the temporary simple suspension bridge at Annonay built by Marc Seguin and his brothers in 1822. It spanned only 18 m. The first permanent wire cable suspension bridge was Guillaume Henri Dufour's Saint Antoine Bridge in Geneva of 1823, with two 40 m spans. The first with cables assembled in mid-air in the modern method was Joseph Chaley's Grand Pont Suspendu in Fribourg, in 1834.
In the United States, the first major wire-cable suspension bridge was the Wire Bridge at Fairmount in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed by Charles Ellet, Jr. and completed in 1842, it had a span of 109 m. Ellet's Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge (1847–48) was abandoned before completion. It was used as scaffolding for John A. Roebling's double decker railroad and carriage bridge (1855).
The Otto Beit Bridge (1938–39) was the first modern suspension bridge outside the United States built with parallel wire cables.