Last Friday marked 130 years since the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. When it was built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, spanning the East River and connecting the city of New York to the city of Brooklyn (which wasn’t a borough just yet). The bridge was originally designed by John Augustus Roebling but the project eventually fell into the hands of his son, Washington Roebling, who completed the construction with the help of his wife, Emily Warren Roebling.

Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began January 3, 1870 and the bridge opened May 24, 1883 to great celebration, with thousands attending, including President Chester A. Arthur. Since then, New Yorkers and tourists alike have crossed the bridge countless times, whether by foot, bike, or car. However, the bridge has helped more than just people cross. Not long after the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, there were rumors that the bridge was not stable enough to support the weight of all those traveling on it. To ensure New Yorkers that the structure was safe, a parade of 21 elephants (among other circus animals) was led across by P.T. Barnum.

The Brooklyn Bridge has become an important part of New York City history and culture over the past 130 years but it was once just a new link between two cities. Celebrate the anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge and see how the landmark came to life during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in these photographs covering its early years.

For even more about the anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, check out Curbed NY.

Photos from the Brooklyn Museum and the Library of Congress.