Natural and Man-Made Disasters

Accidents and Technological Failures

What happened to the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge?

In 1940, the new 2,800-foot suspension bridge, carrying traffic across Washington’s Puget Sound, was hit by high winds, causing it to buckle and undulate. In the simplest of terms, an engineering error allowed one of the suspensions to give way in the wind, and the bridge became ribbonlike, moving in waves. It was 10 years before a second span was opened over the body of water. The 1940 accident prompted engineers and bridge designers to be more cautious in the design of suspension bridges. The first wire suspension bridge in the U.S. was built in 1842: The 358-foot-long and 25-foot-wide bridge spanned the Schuylkill River, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was supported by five wire cables on either side, and was built by U.S. civil engineer Charles Ellet Jr. (1810–1862). The first chain suspension bridge in the U.S. was built in 1800.

Illustration depicting the struggle of survivors to get away from the sinking Titanic. Only 711 of the 2,224 passengers survived the 1912 disaster.

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