Monday, November 24, 2014

American Bridge Day: 50th Anniversary

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Beaver County Times,
November 21, 1964

November 23, 1964, was "American Bridge Day" in Ambridge. The iconic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Staten Island with Brooklyn was opened on November 21, and Ambridge's Mayor Walter Panek issued a proclamation recognizing the contribution of American Bridge Company's Ambridge mill and its employees in the bridge's construction.*

The text under the photo above says:
LONGEST SUSPENSION BRIDGE - New York's famed skyline fades into the background as the mighty new Verrazano Narrows Bridge takes the spotlight this week. Spanning the foot of New York Harbor between Brooklyn, right, and Staten Island, this breath-taking and record-breaking bridge will be opened for traffic today at 3 p.m. U.S. Steel's American Bridge Division, Ambridge, general contractors for the four main cables and the suspended roadway--including the record 4,200-foot long main span--was applying the necessary final touches when this photo was taken.
The November 21, 1964, Beaver County Times reported the bridge was said to be "the most spectacular yet built." An engineering marvel, the bridge was the world's longest suspension bridge at the time, and the mill workers at Ambridge's "Bridge Works" had fabricated materials for the bridge for almost three years, including 142,500 miles of the wire needed for the bridge's main cables. The mill also fabricated the bridge's suspended roadway.

According to the Times, Mayor Panek's proclamation declared "the might and ingenuity of local individuals played a vital roll [sic] in the bridge's design, fabrication, and construction." He noted that the mill "contributed substantially to the economy of our community" and "our fathers and forefathers found their first opportunity in America at the Ambridge Plant."

My father worked as a fitter** at American Bridge, one of the best I'm told. Putting the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge parts together was one of his proudest accomplishments. The bridge was one of two structures he helped to build that he wanted to see when we visited New York in 1964. The other was the Unisphere at that year's World's Fair.

Ambridge's American Bridge mill, which gave the borough its name, has been called "the plant that built America." It once employed almost 6,000 people and was the largest structural steel fabricating plant in the world."  It closed in 1984.

* The workers who actually built America's greatest structures like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are usually under-appreciated and overlooked. The American Bridge steelworkers at least were recognized by Mayor Panek's proclamation and an "American Bridge Day" in Ambridge. The New York City area steelworkers who built the bridge weren't even invited to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge's big opening day ceremony according to a segment on MSNBC's The Reid Report on November 21, 2014. Instead, the snubbed steelworkers attended a mass honoring the steelworkers who had died while working on the bridge.

* *Jay Deiter, who grew up in Ambridge near American Bridge and in the 1970s worked as an assistant to a fitter at Bethlehem Steel, described a fitter's job this way:  "A fitter is someone that can take pieces of steel, look at a set of blueprints, envision the assembled and finished project, correct engineering mistakes on the spot, build what is in front of him, sign off on his completed work and always be proud of his work and his craft!"


  1. anyone remember gary indiana had an Ambridge section, named for the ussteel co w/a. Ab section, 1948 while on a greyhound bus in gary thru to Omaha i woke up & saw an Ambridge tavern & thought the bus was going the wrong way & asked driver, he laughed, said nope Ab is big out here too, years later 1954 moved here & am familiar w/abridge AB area. retired welder fitter, millwright & 7 crafts inder my belt 1995 from Republic steel then know as LTV steel. 40yrs. have been back at ambridge many times, thru to east Pa lanc county to buy antiques etc for many yrs. also a good furniture refinisher too. jd anyone know me reply, please.

    1. jd aka john domansky
      above comment is mine, a little more to add about AB co, american bridge has a deep cult like following out in chicago area, ironworkers around here covet anything marked AB co, at an auction to buy some stuff from AB is like a battle, never know where price will end. Ind. has local union 587 & Ill has local 1 i think. one rod belt holder will go for $25 & up., spud wrenches, depending on how marked start at $50. when mackinaw bridge was built in the late 50s, we went across it on our honeymoon trip in 1961 in a 1961 chevy impala. on to the UP & around lake Michigan, then back to work for 34 more years & retirement.