Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge

Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge

by Rachel Dougherty


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On a warm spring day in 1883, a woman rode across the Brooklyn Bridge with a rooster on her lap.

It was the first trip across an engineering marvel that had taken nearly fourteen years to construct. The woman's husband was the chief engineer, and he knew all about the dangerous new technique involved. The woman insisted she learn as well.

When he fell ill mid-construction, her knowledge came in handy. She supervised every aspect of the project while he was bedridden, and she continued to learn about things only men were supposed to know:


Women weren't supposed to be engineers.

But this woman insisted she could do it all, and her hard work helped to create one of the most iconic landmarks in the world.

This is the story of Emily Roebling, the secret engineer behind the Brooklyn Bridge, from author-illustrator Rachel Dougherty.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


In this affectionate biography, Dougherty tells the story of Emily Roebling, who was pivotal to the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. A curious learner as a child, she later marries engineer Washington Roebling, who plans to construct a means “to finally link Manhattan and Brooklyn.” But when her husband falls ill, Roebling educates herself about engineering and oversees the building of the initially controversial (“The skinny wires look too weak”) but soon beloved landmark. In Dougherty’s accessible artwork, Roebling appears as a gentle, smiling figure, undaunted by the task at hand. The integration of architectural blueprints provides readers with a sense of the bridge’s design, as do photographs appearing in endpapers. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

"Dougherty's lively narration of the events provides readers with an accessible, factual account of a remarkable woman's accomplishments...Inspiring."—Kirkus Reviews

"Dougherty's illustrations are bright and communicative, patiently illustrating the science behind the bridge's construction. Particularly delightful are the sprawling double-page spreads of the bridge's final stages, which seem to grow grander and more imposing as young Emily finds her footing and confidence. A bittersweet, stirring tale of a woman ahead of her time, with substantial back matter and a glossary for budding engineers."—Booklist

" An excellent choice for libraries looking to strengthen picture book biography collections about women in STEM."—School Library Journal

School Library Journal


Gr 1–4-Dougherty's latest is a celebration of Emily Warren Roebling, the unsung female engineer behind the Brooklyn Bridge's construction. After marrying Washington Roebling, Emily finds herself wrapped up in her father-in-law John's plans to build a bridge to link Manhattan and Brooklyn. Washington is sent to Europe to learn about new technology for building bridges: the caisson. Emily insists that she go with him. Before their new knowledge can be put to use, John dies and leaves Washington in charge. When Washington later falls ill due to "caisson sickness" (i.e., the bends), Emily steps into the role of chief engineer—a role she carries for more than 10 years. Initially, she serves as a go-between from her husband to the workers. As Emily studies and learns, she comes into her own as an engineer and carries the project to completion in 1883. The book deftly balances information about the Brooklyn Bridge and bridge building with Emily's compelling story. Dougherty's colorful illustrations track the narrative through a mix of vignettes surrounded by white space and scenic double-page spreads. One notable page includes thumbnail sidebars of the step-by-step process of laying caissons. Endpapers depict blueprint schematics alongside photographs of the bridge throughout history, drawing readers into the design process. Fitting typographical choices expertly exemplify Emily's skills as engineering terms become progressively integrated into the illustrations. VERDICT Emily's mostly self-taught engineering prowess is nothing short of inspirational. An excellent choice for libraries looking to strengthen picture book biography collections about women in STEM.-Alec Chunn, Eugene Public Library, OR

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250155320
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Pages: 40
Sales rank: 213,241
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 10.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 960L (what's this?)
Age Range: 5 - 9 Years

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