History of the Ben Franklin Bridge
Philadelphia is a history buff’s dream, and a great destination for anyone interested in bridge design, The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in Philadelphia. It connects Philadelphia to New Jersey over the Delaware River. Though many commute daily over the Ben Franklin Bridge, not many people know the dramatic story behind the commission, design, and construction of this landmark Philadelphia bridge.
The initial desire to bridge the Delaware River came from New Jersey farmers. They wanted an easier way to bring their produce to sell to the bustling city of Philadelphia. The plan came and went without fruition for a hundred years. It only became a serious plan when the automobile was invented and took over American life. 3 neighboring counties in New Jersey petitioned to get it made, and raised the money to fund a study for the proposed bridge.
It was decided the suspension bridge could be built, and the Delaware River Bridge Joint Commission was born. They hired a design and engineering team. The chief engineer was Ralph Modjeski, a polish born immigrant. Leon Moisseif was the design engineer, and Paul Phillip Cret was the supervising architect. Modjeski was world famous for his suspension bridge designs, and over 40 bridges of his design were constructed across North America. Leon Moissef was one of the designers of the Manhattan Bridge over the East River, though his reputation was later bruised when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a bridge he worked on, collapsed (there were no fatalities). And Paul Phillip Cret designed the famous Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, and taught at the University of Pennsylvania.
For a few years, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge on the planet. Almost immediately, 35,000 vehicles used it per day, when the toll was only a nickel. Some things never change – that toll almost stopped the bridge from happening! New Jersey and Pennsylvania battled over whether or not the bridge should be paid for by tolls, or taxes. Pennsylvania wanted taxes to pay for the bridge. New Jersey wanted a toll for the Ben Franklin Bridge, the same way that the Holland Tunnel, under construction at the same time, had a toll to get into New York.
The fight got so bad that there was talk of tearing down the nearly-completed bridge. Incredibly, they never came to a compromise. The bridge was only saved by, of all things, a political corruption scandal in Philadelphia City Hall. The powerful Vare Political Organization had been taking state money set aside for the bridge and giving contracts to their friends and family. Once this bit of information was leaked and made public, the Vare Organization was removed from the contracts, and the city made a compromise to have tolls over the bridge. Soon after the compromise, the bridge was completed.
The bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. Over 100,000 cars pass over the bridge daily, and the beautiful design of the towers and suspension cables makes it one of the high points of every commuter’s trip.