Today in Transportation History – 1899: Construction Begins on a New Bridge in Sydney

Construction began on a swing bridge crossing Cockle Bay in Darling Harbour and connecting the community of Pyrmont with Sydney’s central business district in the Australian colony (now state) of New South Wales. This new bridge was built to replace one that had been in existence since 1857. The older structure was a wooden pile bridge fitted with an iron swing panel in its center; this panel could be opened to allow ships to pass through that section of the bay.

The festivities marking the start of construction on the replacement bridge took place on a Wednesday afternoon. Edward William O’Sullivan, who had become the New South Wales minister for public works only three months earlier, drove the first pile and laid the foundation stone of the new bridge in the presence of a large crowd. “The ceremony was performed at 2 o’clock,” noted the Sydney-based Evening News. “It was very simple in character.” The newspaper also reported, “A turn or two of the wheel, a heavy thump, and Mr. O’Sullivan declared the first pile of the bridge ‘well and truly driven,’ amidst great cheering.”

The new Pyrmont Bridge was designed by the prolific civil engineer Percy Allan. The Sydney native designed nearly 600 bridges during his career in southeastern Australia, and the Pyrmont Bridge is widely considered to be one of his major achievements. The 1,211-foot (369-meter)-long bridge, which was completed and opened in 1902, consists of a dozen spans constructed from Australian ironbark timber and two swing spans made out of steel.  These swing spans were among the largest in the world at the time of the bridge’s debut. The Pyrmont Bridge also had the distinction of being one of the first swing bridges to be powered by electricity.

The Pyrmont Bridge, opening at a time when automobiles were steadily growing in use in Sydney, quickly established itself as a main overland route for the city. The bridge continued to carry motor vehicles across Cockle Bay until 1981, and it has since been used only for bicycle and pedestrian traffic and – between 1988 and 2013 – the elevated Sydney Monorail. In 1992, the Pyrmont Bridge was formally designated a National Engineering Landmark by the non-profit professional organization Engineers Australia.

For more information on the Pyrmont Bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrmont_Bridge and https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/pyrmont_bridge#ref-uuid=7ffb986b-8e26-5811-3472-5a66d424a637.

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