It was so singular a marvel, so ambitious a feat, that its opening drew the president and a crowd of thousands.
A leading national magazine said it stood poised to become "our most durable monument."
Some 125 years later, the Brooklyn Bridge remains a symbol of engineering might and imagination, and an iconic landmark in the nation's largest city.
And it can still attract a crowd, like the one at the bridge's 125th birthday blowout Thursday night, which featured fireworks, a Navy flyover, a colorful new lighting scheme, a musical tribute by Oscar-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch, even a birthday cake in the shape of the bridge.
"It's an icon for not only New York but for America," said Brooklyn's official historian, Ron Schweiger, who was appointed by the borough president.
The 6,000-foot-long span is one of the nation's oldest suspension bridges and among its most treasured. It opened on May 24, 1883.
Historians note its role in shaping the city: It linked Manhattan with what was then a largely rural Brooklyn, spurring growth in the more rustic borough, Schweiger said.
Brooklyn's population grew by 42% between 1880 and 1890, while Manhattan's grew about 26%, census figures show.
Building the bridge took 13 years, cost $15 million and claimed several lives, including that of its celebrated designer, John Roebling.
He succumbed to an infection after being hurt while looking over the site. His son, Washington Roebling, took over the project.
Its dedication was dubbed "People's Day" and featured two parades, an hourlong fireworks show and an appearance by President Chester Arthur.
Harper's Weekly, a popular illustrated magazine, declared the bridge the manmade work "most likely to become our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity."
The bridge now carries about 126,000 cars per day.