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Roebling and Suspension Bridges: A Thread of Steel
What to Know
Teaching Time
Two 50-minute periods
Grade Level
Middle School
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
  • Science and Technology
Historical Period
  • Expansion and Reform - 1801-1855
  • Civil War and Reconstruction - 1856-1876
  • Development of the Industrial Pennsylvania - 1877-1900
The invention of steel enabled new engineering feats of which the 19th-century public had never imagined. No one knew the potential "strengths" of steel better than John Augustus Roebling, a Pennsylvanian farmer turned engineer. In this lesson, students will follow Roebling's engineering use of steel: (1) to replace hemp rope which was regularly breaking at the Allegheny Portage Railroad, and (2) in his building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Students will furthermore come to understand the basic types of bridges and, through a model activity, comprehend the forces acting on them.


Students will be able to: 1. Identify the contributions of John A. Roebling. 2. Know the technical design problem solving process. 3. Understand the different types of bridges. 4. Create and use model bridges to understand the forces that work on them.

Standards Alignment

  • History

    8.1.6. B. Explain and analyze historical sources.
    8.2.6. A. Identifies political and cultural contributions of individuals to Pennsylvania history
    8.2.6. C. Identify how continuity and change have influenced settlement patterns (e.g. Development of towns)
    8.3.6. A. Identify and explain the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from Beginnings to 1824
    8.3.6. C. Explain how continuity and change has influenced United States history.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.1.8.G. Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents.

  • Science and Technology

    3.1.7. B. Describe the use of models as an application of scientific or technological concepts.
    3.2.7. A. Explain and apply scientific and technological knowledge.
    3.2.7. B. Apply process knowledge to make and interpret observations.
    3.2.7. D. Know and use the technology design process to solve problems.
    3.4.7. C. Identify and explain the principles of force and motion.
    3.6.7. C. Explain physical technologies of structural design, analysis and engineering, personnel relations, financial affairs, structural production, marketing, research and design.
    3.8.7. B. Explain how human ingenuity and technological resources satisfy specific human needs and improve the quality of life.

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