The cables of civilization 6


Brooklyn Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge, completed in 1883, spans the East River in New York. It was the brainchild of John A. Roebling

Here is an article by Michelle Malkin, titled Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge?:

How many times have you heard President Obama and his minions pat themselves on the back for their noble “investments” in “roads and bridges”? Without government infrastructure spending, we’re incessantly reminded, we wouldn’t be able to conduct our daily business.

“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” Vice President Joe Biden infamously asserted. “Private enterprise,” he sneered, lags behind.

As always, the Beltway narcissists have it backward. Without private enterprise and free-market visionaries, public infrastructure wouldn’t exist.

Take the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, which turned 132 years old this week. It’s not a government official whose vision built that. It’s a fierce capitalist who revolted against unimaginative command-and-control bureaucrats in his home country.

Before he went on to pioneer aqueducts and suspension bridges across America, culminating in the Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling was a government engineer in the German province of Westphalia. A cog in the Prussian building machine, he chafed under autocratic rule. No decisions could be made, no actions taken, he complained in his diary, “without first having an army of government councilors, ministers, and other functionaries deliberate about it for ten years, make numerous expensive journeys by post, and write so many long reports about it, that for the amount expended for all this, reckoning compound interest for ten years, the work could have been completed”.

Fed up with innovation-stifling conformity, subordination and red tape, the ambitious 25-year-old Roebling set sail for the U.S. in 1831 aboard the American-built ship August Edward. During the 78-day journey, he wrote of his hopes and dreams “to found a new home in the western continent beyond the ocean, a new fatherland free from tyranny”.  Upon arriving in Philadelphia, he celebrated his adopted land’s free-market economy.

“The numerous hindrances, restrictions and obstacles, which are set up by timid governments and countless hosts of functionaries against every endeavor in Germany, are not to be found here,” he reflected in a letter to friends and family.

“The foreigner must be astounded at what the public spirit of these republicans has accomplished up to now and what it still accomplishes every day. All undertakings take place through the association of private persons. In these the principal aim is naturally the making of money.” The pursuit of self-interest was in of itself a source of public good, he concluded, “principally (as) a result of unrestricted intercourse in a concerted action of an enlightened, self-governing people.”

Roebling failed at silkworm-farming, fabric-dying, rape seed oil farming and canary-raising before embarking on his engineering career. He patented an improved boiler for steamships, a safety gauge for a steam-boiler flue and a steam-powered motorcycle. He traveled wherever he could utilize his skills – constructing dams on the Beaver River, consulting on hydraulics on the Croton River Aqueduct, knocking on doors for work across Pennsylvania.

With unbridled determination to build a lucrative family business, he patented and pioneered America’s first commercially successful wire rope company. Frugal and financially savvy, Roebling operated on saved capital and refused to borrow. Several of his new clients paid him in stock, and he soon had a thriving investment portfolio. Coal mining companies in the anthracite region snapped up his sturdy cables.

Did he have “help” along the way? Plenty – from other capitalists, that is.

Roebling purchased his wire from industrial pioneer Robert Townsend, who had founded the first iron wire mill west of the Allegheny Mountains in 1816. Townsend, who had learned the wire-making trade from Baltimore wire weaver Hugh Balderson, manufactured rivets, nails, fasteners and telegraph wire, in addition to supplying Roebling with wire for his early experiments and projects.

Samuel Wickersham’s Pittsburgh Wire Works also supplied wire as Roebling gained more project work. And Sligo Iron Works made charcoal “blooms” for Roebling’s wire: large blocks cast from molten iron and later steel, which were then “hot rolled” at high temperatures between two rotating cylinders into wire rods.

Later, Roebling’s sons Charles and Ferdinand built a 200-acre state-of-the-art manufacturing campus, steel plant and village outside Trenton, N.J. Employing 8,000 workers, Kinkora Works produced everything from chicken wire and telegraph wire to tramway and elevator cables.

The suspension cables on the Golden Gate and George Washington bridges were manufactured by the Roeblings. So were the control cables in the Spirit of St. Louis, the first airplane to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the tramway and construction cables used to build the Panama Canal. Even the wires used to stabilize the wings of the Wright Brothers’ aircraft used Roebling trusses.

Here’s the lesson White House progressives and Common Core historians won’t teach: Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge is a towering legacy of the countless pursuits of individual American innovators who benefited the public by benefiting themselves and their families. The wealth-shaming social engineers in Washington will never understand. Private profit is a public good.


John Augustus Roebling


(Hat-tip to our Facebook commenter Nadir H. Khan)

  • Don L

    Absolutely out-of-left-field:

    After 200 years of serious research…in 2015 it has finally been figured out how the holes in swiss cheese are created. It isn’t carbon dioxide from bacteria as suggested 100 years ago. It’s microscopic bits of hay. The clue was realized only a few years ago as the number of holes was seen to be declining. The change was milking into a bucket vs cleaner/filtered automated milking. Missing was the bits of hay. They now can determine the hole quantity by adding specific amounts of hay dust. Now if we could only get government to understand Free Market Capitalism. Oh, wait. They do know…that’s why they reject it…it shows that politgicians are ther problem.

  • Don L

    FWIW – The Roebling cabling suspension system was also employed in the Golden gate Bridge.

    Perhaps the only government-private venture that actually worked was, opened in 1825 after 17 years of planning and construction, the Erie Canal. And, it only functioned economically for a very short time until replaced by railroads. Unfortunately, this singular government-private investment success, one out of hundreds that failed, became the model promoted by the Whig party…of which Abe Lincoln was a major player. It was the implementation of mercantalism and the formula for economic failure. Today we call it crony capitalism.

    Lincoln and the Whig party managed to convince many local, state and the federal governments to invest in all manner of projects. All failed as the true purpose was to help political cronies toward empowering the Whhig party and its candidates retain political power Backfire: local and state governments were severly damaged fiscally and/or bankrupted. The cronies made out like bandits…which, for all intents and purposes, they were.

    Indeed, many states amended their constitutions to forever ban private-government investment. The result was the total rejection of the Whig party. Lincoln and the followers migrated to the near defunct Republican party. And, Lincoln became the born again Republican party’s candidate for president in 1860. He immediately set about re-establishing the mercantalist policies. It was in support of the northern industrialist political cronies, heavy tariffs benefited the north at the expense of the southern states, for which he fabricated and fought a war of brutal aggression.

    Alexander Hamilton was the first traitorous founder. He fought to get the Constitution ratified whereupon he believed he could then corrupt it. He wanted separation from England but not from the monarchist model of priviledge and merantalist economics. He absolutely rejected Jefferson’s principles of individual sovereignty, States’ Rights and consent of the governed. And, the battle between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian ideology raged until Lincoln’s war against States’ Rights. The Republic of voluntary States was crushed and the central STATE of coerced submission was born.

    Lincoln foward, the Constitution has been a feckless document…ripped asunder by ego and power corrupted career-politicians and similarly disgusting justices. Nothing in the Constitution allows government to “invest”. There is not one endeavor funded by government that works. Ah, everone points to the highway sytem. Really? What if private enterprise had been allowed to own and build the raods? Consumer-oriented, would traffic congestion and unnatural city planning have been the product generating profit? Just because it’s what one is used to doesn’t mean it was the only way to evolve. Electric and water utilities, Postal service, train management, license delivery, Solyndra…there is nothing…NOTHING…that government can do better than free market capitalism. There are, by the way, many studies that show that even defense of the Republic would be more effective and efficient, at a dramatically lower cost, if free of government/political intervention.

    The point, career-politicians cannot be allowed to decide what is or isn’t a wise investment because they:

    1) have no motivation to protect the money since it isn’t theirs;

    2) are motivated to seek funds toward re-election and favor those who would support their campaign;

    3) as government, produce nothing and all money is therefore extracted from the economy, run through inefficient & ineffective dollar-draining bureaucracies that serve politiical-policies vs consumers, that, lacking profit/loss feedback, cannot monitor success or failure and are motivated to survive and expand irrespective of task achievement;

    4) are only Constitutionally empowered to secure the unalienable rights of the governed and NOT to be involved in placing America’s wealth into an entrepreneurial risk assement and acceptance role…for which they also have no expertise;

    and, 5) are incapable of usurping the knowledge, experience and resulting determinations of hundreds of millions of individuals who precisely,know what is or isn’t in their self interest as they willingly and agreeably interact and exchange in free markets.

    Bottom line, Government has not and cannot build anything. All one has to do to defend against this idiacy is ask, “How does that happen…step-by-step? Where did the money come from? Who created the jobs that could be taxed? Which came first the entrpreneur and the idea, the company and employees, the need for a road or government without funds of its own to build a road? Who does what? How do politicians build that road? When the money hits the bureaucracy…how does the road get built? Lefties cannot answer these questions without revealing their ignorance and that it is the free market that build all of it!

    Lastly, Michelle Malkin has also written another great book “Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”. Published before the 2008 election…like so much info about the SOB in the White House…it didn’t matter to the feel good at all costs ignorant lefties. Yet, for all the great info Michelle writes…geez, she is one of the most militant religious idiots out there…what a shame.

    “Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution–and What It Means for Americans” by Thomas DiLorenzo –

    “The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War” by Thomas DiLorenzo –

    And the two-year after sequel:

    “Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe” by Thomas DiLorenzo –

    “The Myth of the Robber Barons” by Burt Folsom –

    “How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes” by the brothers Peter D. Schiff and Andrew J. Schiff. Peter is the focus of the YouTube video Peter Schiff Was Right. A new 10th anniversary edition ot their book has come out which includes explanation of the current Great Recession: 2010 ediion – ; the 10th Anniversary edition –

    FREE DOWNLOAD “Bureaucracy” by Ludwig von Mises –

    • We are yet more in debt to you, Don L, for this interesting and important information.

      Yes, it is sad that Michelle Malkin, like so many otherwise sane conservatives, is a believer in the supernatural. As we often say, it can only be due to a streak of insanity.

      • Don L

        Thanks, shucks and amen. LOL

    • liz

      Great article and comment!
      Yes, it’s amazing how Malkin seems to get relational self interest so well, yet at the same time believe in the altruism of religion.

      • Don L

        Liz…it might happen…might,,,if you read it…if you recognize anything…Jillian is in on it…please, don’t give it away. thanks